Our View: Roadwork could fuel city-county split

An inability to lay hands on a policy defining how funding is split for county road improvements within city limits left Olmsted County commissioners and Rochester City Council members with more questions than answers this week.

"There is no policy," Rochester Public Works Director Richard Freese said during a joint meeting of the county board and city council. "Nobody has ever been able to produce a written policy adopted by the county board or the county transportation committee."

Freese's county counterpart, Public Works Director Michael Sheehan, said the county traditionally has paid 40 percent of the costs while cities pay 60 percent. "We want to be consistent throughout the county with the cities we have in the county," he said.

However, confusion arises with fluctuations in the split. Recent projects have seen a 50-50 split on design or construction, and work at the corner intersection of Mayowood Road and 16th Street Southwest had the county pay a fixed amount after the city council opted to reject the county's proposed roundabout at the intersection.

"We've morphed a little bit from the 60-40," Olmsted County Administrator Richard Devlin acknowledged, as city and county officials asked Sheehan to take the issue to the county's Public Works Commission for clarification and the creation of a potential policy.


While we see a need for a policy — or at least a written guideline — for such road projects, we also hope the Public Works Commission and the county board heed the advice of Commissioner Paul Wilson, who noted some flexibility is needed in the process, especially when it comes to projects that could qualify for outside funding.

"Historically, we've been able to pull together to get dollars from the state or federal (government)," he said.

The nature of the roads also make flexibility a crucial component to any policy or guideline adopted by a single governmental body. These are roadways that serve as ways to get all county residents into and out of area cities, but they also must serve city residents' needs on a daily basis.

While the 60-40 split might be a good starting point for many projects, it's worth noting that such a split should give cities a bit more say in what is included in roads that could potential become city streets. The local residents will likely use the roadways more often, but also will need greater access to crossings and amenities aimed at public safety. It more city tax dollars are used to pay for the work, it seems the city's needs and expectations should be considered from the start.

Hopefully, any policy created to help define a split in funding for county roads within city limits will also seek to clarify design roles and potential for flexibility to make sure the roadway will best serve all who use it.

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