Not all milled Brown County roads will remain asphalt

Farm Forum

Brown County’s move to buy a mounted asphalt paver for the highway department could raise some eyebrows in rural parts of the county.

Even one county commissioner has concerns about the message it sends, though Rachel Kippley said at last week’s meeting she now understands the need for the piece of equipment. Six months ago, she would have been against the purchase, she said.

Dirk Rogers, highway superintendent, doesn’t want residents to get the wrong impression, either. Many of the miles the machine will grind will then somehow be restored after being milled.

“Just because you see the milling machine doesn’t mean we’re going to leave it gravel,” he said. The machine was purchased off of a North Dakota bid for $167,000.

But, he said, there are just some asphalt roads in Brown County that are in such bad shape they can’t be saved.

Three things can happen to a road after it’s milled, Rogers said. It can become a gravel road, it can get a blotter surface or the base can be improved and a new asphalt surface laid on top. The county will tap each of those options in the years to come.

Sure, it’d be nice to replace all asphalt surfaces with more asphalt. But from a financial standpoint, that’s just not feasible. The county has nearly 480 miles of asphalt road. To put a 2-inch asphalt overlay over all 480 miles would cost nearly $90 million, Rogers estimated. His annual budget is roughly a tenth of that amount, and the total has to be used payroll, equipment purchases, road and bridge work and more.

Since 2000 or so, the county has milled approximately 45 miles of road that are now gravel, Rogers said. And in the next five years or so, another 45 miles or will probably be milled and left as gravel because they’re in such rough shape, he said.

For instance, parts of County Road 6 between Richmond Lake and County Road 5 to the north could be ground to gravel next year, Rogers said.

Two stretches of road are being milled this year. Asphalt Recycling Solutions just finished milling four miles of County Road 3A near Elm Lake at a cost of roughly $10,000 a mile. Rogers said it’ll be topped with a blotter surface next year.

“We’re trying a few new things up there” to see what type of blotter works best, he said.

A blotter surface is a layer of oil and rock chips on top of a gravel surface.

Three miles of County Road 16 between its two junctions with County Road 5 in the northern part of the county will also be milled by a contractor this year, Rogers said. The stretch will be topped with asphalt next year, he said.

Even with the milling machine, the county will sometimes have to hire contractors to mill stretches of road, especially those that go for several miles, he said.

Rogers sees the mounted milling machine as ideal for a stretch like County Road 20 near Claremont where the surface alternates between asphalt that’s in good shape and gravel. County Road 21 south of Aberdeen is in similar condition, he said. Parts of those roads could be milled and restored, he said.

Rogers knows milling roads to gravel isn’t popular with the people who live along the roads. But, he said, regular users of milled roads who don’t live along them sometimes to approve of the surface change. With limited finances, Rogers said he simply has to make priorities.

“I’m not mill happy,” he said.

That helped ease Kippley’s concerns, as did the fact that Rogers has crafted a solid road care plan for the future.

“I think we need to use it (only) when absolutely necessary,” Kippley said of the 6-foot, mounted milling machine.

“The ones that I’m targeting for that are basically ones that I want to try to salvage first,” Rogers said.

He hopes for $2 million in his 2015 budget that can be used for hot mix. With that total, which is $250,000 than is in this year’s budget for hot mix, the highway department could put a 2-inch asphalt overlay on about 15 miles of road, he said.

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