How to blow $20,000,000 on 1,100 people.

We need roads. We need good roads that are built with a purpose and have a high return on investment. Roads that have purpose and efficiently connect productive places.

The road I’m talking about though, doesn’t really fit the above criteria.

MNDOT recently announced that it will be spending roughly 20 million to fix up Highway 66 which connects Good Thunder with Mankato.

Now I’m no economist, but Good Thunder isn’t exactly a burgeoning center of local commerce. The residency as of the 2010 census stood at 583 people. Yes, 583, as in less than 600. As in I have enough money to give everyone in that city a dollar–scratch that–THREE DOLLARS.

Why spend $20 million on improving a route to a city that small? Great question, reader, here’s the answer:

THERE IS NONE.

Let me alleviate your rage about such an egregious abuse of transportation funds.

The AADT (Average Annual Daily Traffic) for this road is 1,100 cars. Roughly double the residency of Good Thunder or essentially every citizen coming to and from Mankato every day. If you want, think about it as $20,000 per car. Oh, did I mention that the road is about 12 miles long? So yet another way of thinking about it is roughly $1.6m a mile.

Screen Shot 2014-06-17 at 3.27.10 PM source: MNDOT traffic app

I don’t want this post to come off as a slam against Good Thunder or make it seem like I don’t care about the residents there. I think that improving highway 66 is a great idea, but not the degree they have in mind. This Free Press article is a good summary of why they want to upgrade the road and what it will be upgraded to.

Again, I agree, it can be dangerous in winter, it needs improvement, but $20m is an absurd amount to spend on such a low returning road. A measured and calculated amount should be spent to make the road smoother and safer.

The kicker here is that after MNDOT is done making these improvements, they’re going to turn it over to the county to take care of. Yikes, rotten deal for Blue Earth. We now get to manage it for the rest of its life.

While the price might seem high, the road is an important one to the county, Forsberg said. Combined with County Road 1, which extends south from Good Thunder, Highway 66 is the main north-south route in central Blue Earth County, midway between Highway 169 on the west and Highway 22 on the east.-Mankato Free Press

MNDOT and the county both have the traffic counts for that road. They say it’s a “main route” ergo it’s “important.” In other news, we’re building a staircase from Cape Canaveral, FL to the Moon because it’s a “main route” and “important.” A lot of things are main connections, but the question is how important are these routes and do they have a quality return for their investment.

It would actually be cheaper to spend 10 million on the road and then just PAY those 1,100 cars 5k a year to take a different route (only for one year, but you get the idea).

Furthermore, a lot of people don’t even want the road to change to the degree the state has in mind. The state wants to widen it, make it straighter and design it for higher speeds. When they told this to the county, most of the residents along the road said “screw that!”

The thing about highway 66 right now is that it’s really nice. It’s curvy, slow, and very scenic. All this designing would ruin what is already nice drive. Currently it’s designed as a road that handles, oh I don’t know, 1,100 cars a day. Why transform it to something it’s not? Because it doesn’t meet “THE STANDARD,” a supposititious guideline on how to build roads way to big.

This article is somewhat rant-y and I apologize for that. If I could summarize what I’m trying to say it’s Return on Investment. We have a problem in this country of upgrading, fixing or building infrastructure even if it’s ROI is little or nothing. We then have to maintain this infrastructure which has huge financial implications on our city, state and national budgets.

We need to think about retiring, removing, downgrading or heck just modestly improving infrastructure in this country.

This, however, is an example of more of the same.

About Matthias Leyrer

Matthias Leyrer is a resident of Mankato looking to restore a fraction of its old glory. He writes about the economic, aesthetic, practical and financial issues facing the city of Mankato going forward.