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Fargo pavement rating slipping as city officials seek solutions

Assistant City Engineer Tom Knakmuhs called the backlog of immediate work needed "manageable."

Norman Garcia works on concrete
Master Construction works on curing concrete Wednesday along 12th Avenue North near 16th Street in Fargo in this project years ago.
File photo / The Forum
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FARGO — Fargo's ever expanding roadway system has grown by almost 40% in the past 15 years — enough to equal all four lanes from Fargo to the Montana border on Interstate 94.

So every four years, the city hires a firm to do a full pavement survey of its estimated $1.2 billion worth of roadways. It was last completed in August with a specialized vehicle with multiple sensors and lasers to examine cracks, ruts and other problem areas.

The bottom line, or what city traffic engineer Kevin Gorder called the "report card," shows that the overall pavement condition from 2017 to 2021 slipped about 4 points from almost an 83 out of 100 points to 79, which he called "not alarming."

If it was a report card, it would be from a low B four years ago to a high C now on what the city engineers called an aging pavement system.

Yet about 80% of all roadways are listed in good to satisfactory condition, but that was down from 88% four years ago.

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Assistant City Engineer Tom Knakmuhs called the backlog of immediate work needed is about 4.5% of the network but he called it "manageable." A typical city can have up to about 10% of its work in that category.

The roadways in the backlog of the most seriously damaged streets need to be reconstructed in what he said are expensive undertakings, but the key is to preserve the roadways.

About 55% of the roadways are asphalt, with 41% concrete and the remaining almost 4% a composite with a concrete base and asphalt on top.

Knakmuhs said the city needs to do more on concrete roadways as about 50,000 square yards are being addressed this year but he said it should be twice that amount.

Concrete preservation work includes spot repairs, pavement rehabilitation, partial and full depth repairs, handicapped accessible sidewalk ramp updates and diamond grinding. For spot repair and rehab the city has been spending about $2.5 million per year lately.

Asphalt roads in a few categories improved slightly in the past four years, but concrete roadways had more troubles especially on "collector roadways" that link residential streets with main thoroughfares.

Asphalt preservation work includes crack sealing, chip seals and mill and overlays. On main roads, milling off the top two inches and resurfacing should be done every 12 to 20 years on main roads and 15 to 25 years on residential streets. In all, the city has spent about $4.6 million on the three categories.

Of course, it'll take more money to boost the city roadway preservation that saves money in the long run.

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Mayor Tim Mahoney at the meeting said he supports hiring a consultant to do a pavement management master plan that could cost about $200,0000.

The study could recommend funding levels needed, strategies to preserve pavement and look at pavement designs for cost savings.

Commissioner Dave Piepkorn wondered how much more funding was needed each year to catch up, but the engineers didn't give an estimate.

Piepkorn also asked if concrete is cheaper than asphalt with the price of oil up.

Knakmuhs said concrete costs are also up. In the end, he said analyzing the cost of asphalt or concrete on a roadway is "a wash" or about the same for either in the end, although concrete is more durable on major roadways to handle truck traffic year round.

Commissioner John Strand asked about funding options and if there were more environmentally friendly ways to build and maintain roadways.

Mahoney said North Dakota's Legislature this year offered a plan for a street utility tax of $20 a month, or $240 a year, for each property to address road concerns, but didn't say if he favored that as an option to also help cut special assessments.

He also said 44% of Fargo's sales taxes, which help pay for road projects, comes from out of the city which is a positive for city taxpayers.

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