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City wants to keep closer eye on roads

The city of Rochester wants greater oversight of the privately built roads and infrastructure that will later become public property. To show its commitment, the city will pay for some of the additional requirements.

The Rochester City Council on Monday gave its consensus to pursue a two-year pilot program involving its own Public Works Department and private developers, adding more standards to the process by which roads and other infrastructure are built and later transferred to public ownership.

The city has been using a standard contract process to work with residential and commercial developers for the last 25 years, said Richard Freese, Rochester Public Works Department director.

The contract process has come under greater scrutiny after recent, high-profile examples of poorly performing infrastructure, including failing roadways at the Shoppes on Maine development, built from 2004 to 2007. That situation prompted the council in May to consider a $6.7 million assessment to property owners.

The council in July asked the Public Works Department to pursue process improvements. A 13-member task force of city staff, Rochester Area Builders representatives, developers, contractors and engineers met five times during the last three months to address issues and propose solutions.


The task force produced a list of 19 changes to the city-owner contract process that could result in improved quality of infrastructure.

"If we do all this, the results will be better — if we do it," Freese said. "We have to commit to it and we have to do it."

The changes to the process come at a cost, to both the city and the developers involved.

"I went into these discussions making everybody fully aware that any change in the process was going to involve an increase in cost," Freese said.

Additional costs would come from additional inspections. Among the suggested additions to the process were geotechnical reports for each development, pavement design reports for each development and bituminous testing following Minnesota Department of Transportation State Aid standards.

The city would assume costs for pavement design reports, pavement testing and any additional inspection above a level mutually agreed to by the city and developers.

These costs could run to about $60,000 a year, Freese said. That would be in addition to the about $200,000 to $300,000 the department spends on the city-owner contract process for plan review, inspection, oversight and testing.

Freese estimated private investment in infrastructure at about $15 million a year.


By investing in a higher level of inspection, Freese said the task force predicted an overall savings to the city by avoiding the costs of failing infrastructure.

The council gave its go-ahead for city staff to prepare a formal request for a two-year pilot program, beginning Jan. 1.

"I'm comfortable with what we're proposing, at least for the two-year pilot," said Council Member Mark Bildberback. "I think there's going to be benefits, and we're going to come out ahead."

There was discussion among council members about the city's obligation to pay for the added costs, but the prospect of future savings outweighed the upfront costs.

"If the level of quality here is increased, there's going to be a savings that exceeds the investment," Council Member Ed Hruska said.

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