Street Smarts Part I – An Overview & When Your Street Will Get Fixed

City Makes Slow But Steady Progress on Street Repairs

A primary concern for many citizens of Marshfield is streets. While managing environmental complications (frequent freeze/thaw conditions and poor soil drainage) and budget limitations (cost increases and complicated funding), the City of Marshfield’s Public Works Department continues to make slow, yet steady progress with City streets.

“There have been significant improvements. We are making progress. Our trend is in the right direction, slow-moving trend but it is the right direction,” said Public Works Director Dan Knoeck. “We can measure our improvements.”

Concern over roads is not something unique to Marshfield, or even to Wisconsin.

“Generally speaking, we’re all in the same boat here and struggling to keep our roads to the standard that we would like,” he added. “We don’t have enough budget to do everything we want to do.”

Common Repairs

Common repairs include asphalt overlays, which are used on concrete streets where there is deterioration. Concrete patching is done in the worst areas, followed by an asphalt overlay, which extends the life of the pavement system. Crack sealing and slag sealing are also important. More cost effective than a total replacement, the asphalt overlay provides a smooth riding surface.

Mill-in-Place programs are typically done in residential streets where there is lower traffic volume. This involves redoing the drainage, ditching, and driveway culverts as needed, as well as any spot repairs in sewer and water. Then, the surface gets milled (pulverized), and the existing asphalt is ground up, re-leveled, and new asphalt is put on the surface. By completion, three inches of pavement are added, and this little bit of additional structure can extend the life of the road by 20-25 years.

How Streets are Evaluated

Utilizing the City’s Geographic Information Systems (GIS) technology and visual inspection by experts from the Street Division, Public Works evaluates all 143 street miles using a scale in compliance with the Department of Transportation (DOT). Rated on a scale of 1-10, with 1 being the worst condition and 10 being a new road, street quality is reported to the DOT every two years.

Along with submitting the report to the DOT, Public Works officials adapt the DOT’s scale to help determine which streets to repair. An Assistant Street Superintendent completes the ratings, which involves driving throughout the City and using DOT guidelines to assess each street’s condition.

Streets rated a 1-4 are targeted for improvements, with reconstruction for those on the lower end, and asphalt overlays or mill-in-place projects when suitable.

Streets with a 5-8 rating are targeted for maintenance treatments, such as crack filling, minor patching, and slag seal surface treatments.

Streets rated a 9-10 are nearly new and do not need any repair or maintenance in the short term.

“In 2007, we had 34.9% of our streets rated 1-4, which is a fairly big percentage. 53% were 5-8, and 12% were 9-10,” said Knoeck.

A Plan Is Made

Acting on this information, between 2009-2010, the department amped up their asphalt paving program. Then, in 2011, they conducted a long-range assessment of future needs.

At that time, the City had 142 miles of streets. Assuming an average lifespan of 30 years, the department determined that 4.7 miles of streets required improvement per year to keep on track.

“These are the major improvements, not the maintenance types of activities,” said Knoeck. “For asphalt paving and reconstruction projects, 4.7 miles per year is an ideal target.”

From that point, the City established that the asphalt paving program (which is separate from reconstruction dollars) should target 4 miles per year at an annual cost of $2 million.

“This is ideally where we should be,” said Knoeck. “With those goals in mind, we have been making some progress. The CIP [Capital Improvement Program] committee, Board of Public Works, and Common Council all realize that we need to be doing as much as we can in our street improvements. There’s support to fund it at that level when we can.”

Using the rating system, while also evaluating drainage needs and traffic volumes to determine which streets to address, Public Works submits a list of streets for the asphalt paving program each year in the annual budget process, as well as maintains a list of reconstruction projects in the CIP (which is the City’s 5-year plan). By the time projects are bid, the list may change.

Each year, the City tracks expenditures and reconstruction miles, and this data reveals that the City is making slow but sure progress when it comes to streets. In 2016, there were 26.2% streets rated a 1-4, 66.8% were a 5-8 rating, and 7% were a 9-10 rating.

Street Rating Comparison

“The good news is we’ve seen a significant reduction in our worst streets,” said Knoeck. “But, if we’re only averaging 3.5 miles a year and we have 26.2% (37 miles) of streets in our worst categories, that’s over ten years to get through all of those streets and some of them are going to get worse before they get better.”

Increasing costs creates further challenges to meeting that goal.

“Why Isn’t My Street Getting Done?”

“We hear from people, ‘why isn’t my street getting done?’,” said Knoeck. “First, we look at the street ratings and target the worst ones. Then we look at the condition of the underground utilities. If utility reconstruction is needed, we don’t want to put it on the asphalt paving list if we know we have to do some underground work. That might be a reason why a street that is in poor shape is not getting much attention is because it has underground utility needs and we have to wait until it falls into the queue to repair more than just the street surface.”

One example is Maple Avenue from Depot to Arnold, behind Kwik Trip, which is being addressed this year.

“It has been in pretty rough shape for a while and it’s been in our CIP for reconstruction,” said Knoeck. “It needed new sanitary sewer, new water main, and while it’s not a big project when you replace all the underground utilities it does become significant. That one is finally coming up. That one has sat a while and people might have wondered why.”

Knoeck added that patching can sometimes provide the City a few extra years before more extensive repairs or reconstruction are needed. However, with a significant number of streets (66%) in the mid-range condition, continual maintenance is critical to keep them from becoming low-range streets.

“Not only should we be ramping up our asphalt paving dollars, but we should be ramping up our maintenance dollars,” said Knoeck. “But, if you look at our budget through the years, we don’t have the ability to raise the maintenance budget as much as we’d like to to keep up with those mid-range streets.”

Funding From the State

Some parts of town, such as Central Avenue and Veterans Parkway, have State Trunk Highways on them and are therefore not included in local street mileage. The City receives state aid for maintaining those.

“When it comes to major improvements, the DOT helps funds those,” said Knoeck. “For example, the stretch on North Central from Arnold to Harrison is due for a mill and overlay. That’s planned for July 2018, so our responsibility has been to just maintain the street with patching and so forth, trying to hold it together until DOT gets there with their improvement project.

At one point, that was scheduled for 2015, and for various reasons was delayed. Now we’re finally to the point where it’s just around the corner.”

29th Street from Washington to Veterans is another stretch being addressed with help from outside funding.

“From Washington to Veterans, we were able to secure some state and federal funding to reconstruct that street,” said Knoeck. “And, because of the industrial nature of that area, we felt it would be better to reconstruct that area with concrete pavement and a new base rather than just an overlay. That’s why there hasn’t been much of any work done on that stretch because it’s going to be reconstructed, and is scheduled for 2018. That will be a full reconstruction, with new pavement, underground utility work, and a new sidewalk on the north side.”

Slow But Steady Progress

Though slow progress, City streets are on the right track.

“We’re trying to balance the expenditures between maintenance, asphalt improvements, and reconstruction to get the best results with the limited resources as we can. Obviously we’d like to have more to be able to do more. We want to make sure that we’re spending what we have wisely, so we don’t have to go back and redo things,” said Knoeck.

Those with questions about their road, or the construction process in general are welcome to contact Knoeck at or by calling 715-387-8424 . Citizens are also invited to participate in Capital Improvement Program meetings, which are open to the public.

News Desk
Author: News Desk