Transforming Pilar Road into a safer gravel road with better drainage could cost more than $350,000. The engineering report was presented at the Jan. 8 Scandia City Council work session.
Most city streets in Scandia are paved, thanks to a decision by the board of supervisors when Scandia was a township. But Pilar Road and its dead-end offshoots, Paris, Perkins and Penfield avenues, remain gravel.
These scenic roads curve through trees, hills and valleys – all of which come up to the edge of the road. The lack of shoulders and ditches affects summer drainage and winter snow plowing. The sharp curves are safest when taken at slow speeds.
Paving Pilar Road has been postponed because of cost. At a road tour in May 2013, Council Member Dan Lee asked what it would cost to make Pilar a really nice gravel road.
City Engineer Ryan Goodman answered this question at the Jan. 8 meeting. Trees would be cleared from the road right of way and ditches created. Culverts smaller than 18 inches would be replaced and more would be installed. In the ditches, Goodman recommended drain tile under pea rock trenches, which are simple and inexpensive to install and maintain.
The estimated cost is $240,000 for Pilar Road plus $73,500 for Paris Avenue, $36,500 for Perkins Avenue and $16,500 for Penfield Avenue, a grand total of $365,789.
Goodman said the project could be completed over five years to lessen the budget impact. One step in the process could be completed each year, or one section of road could be done from start to finish each year. These options will be presented at a future council meeting.
For projects that total less than $100,000, the city is not required to go through a public bidding process and need not prepare detailed specifications.
When Council Member Chris Ness asked if any of the work could be done in-house, Public Works Director Tim Kieffer said yes, “but it would take a very long time.”
Kieffer recommended hiring contractors. The city crew is busy in the summer preparing other streets for maintenance, he explained. Each year, one-sixth of the city streets are seal coated. In advance of seal coating, public works staff trim trees, install street signs, patch holes and deal with drainage issues.
Tree clearing at Pilar may meet some resistance from residents who object to the effect on the scenery.
“There will be some chaining themselves to trees,” Council Member Sally Swanson said. But the result would be worth the tree loss, she advised. “These roads will still be scenic, but safer.”
The remaining trees will be “stronger, healthier, have a better crown because they’re not fighting for sun,” Kieffer added.
Goodman said some mature trees are worth saving, but in areas that have no ditches now, “if a car goes off the road, it hits a tree.”
In addition to shoulders and ditches, the road would also be reshaped. Goodman, who drove Pilar before coming to the meeting, said “the parabolic shape of the roads means two cars approaching from opposite directions fight for the middle. Nobody wants to move over.”
Residents are assessed part of the cost of paving a gravel road, but the city would cover the entire cost of the proposed gravel road upgrade.
At the May road tour, Kieffer said so much aggregate has eroded from Pilar that road crew equipment “picked up a boulder in the road.”
Chemicals applied for dust control would help stabilize the gravel by binding the particles together, the engineering report said, and routine grading would also help keep gravel on the road.
Lee approved of the proposal.
“When you’re done, you’ll have modern, maintainable dirt road at a fraction of the cost of pavement,” he said. “I’m for it.”
Council Member Jim Schneider agreed.
“I like the plan,” he said. “It’s just what we talked about.”
Dan Swanson was appointed to the Forest Lake Cable Commission in a unanimous vote, with his wife abstaining. Mayor Randall Simonson will also continue on this board.
Openings on the Park and Recreation Committee will be filled by Brad Borg and Ryan Jinks.
For the Planning Commission spot vacated by Peter Schwarz, the council will interview applicants beginning at 6 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 21, before the council meeting. Schwarz attended his last meeting as a Planning Commission member on Jan. 7. He has served in that role since 1999.
Ness volunteered to serve another year as liaison to the Wastewater Advisory Board, and Lee will continue as liaison to the Park and Recreation Committee.