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Railroad Ave. fix more complicated than it appears

By LeAnn R. Ralph

COLFAX — As it turns out, fixing Railroad Avenue will not be as easy as it might seem.

The Colfax Village Board’s streets committee met April 29 with Lisa Fleming, a project manager with Ayres Associates, to discuss options for Railroad Avenue.

At issue are the potholes that return a day or two after village personnel have filled them with gravel or blacktop, stormwater and snow melt run-off and standing water that pools at the entrance to the alley between Pine Street and Balsam Street.

Railroad Avenue is not the worst street in Colfax, but it is the most traveled of the streets that need repairing, said Rand Bates, director of public works.

The amount of traffic on Railroad Avenue — from passenger cars, to trucks, to tractors, to semi trailers — is substantial, agreed Don Logslett, street supervisor.

Senn Blacktop submitted an estimate of $194,000 for resurfacing all of Railroad Avenue from West Street to county Highway M, or $87,750 for West Street to Dunn Street.

Unfortunately, resurfacing will not fix the road base or drainage problems, Fleming said.

If the underlying problems with the street are not repaired, the new blacktop would only last for a few years before it starts breaking up again, she said.

Richard Johnson, village trustee and chair of the streets committee, agreed.

“I don’t see milling or resurfacing. We need to do more,” he said.

Tough fix

Fleming said she had been studying the village’s maps and that fixing Railroad was going to be “tough.”

One problem is that the nearest storm sewers to collect run-off are located around the corner and down Pine Street and Balsam Street at River Street, she said.

Another problem is that the storm sewers along River Street are only eight-inch mains and do not have the capacity to take on very much additional run-off, Fleming said.

After Railroad is resurfaced, any water that goes into the system will get there faster because of the smooth road, she explained.

The storm sewers along River Street most likely would back up for a while after a heavy rain or during the spring when snow is melting, Fleming said.

Merely resurfacing Railroad Avenue also would be a waste of money if the road base is not built up — and especially if the drainage issues are not addressed, Fleming said.

The reason the potholes are becoming worse and will not stay “fixed” is because of the standing water and the freeze-thaw cycle of fall, winter and spring, she said.

“The key to getting the road to last longer is to drain the water so it doesn’t freeze,” Fleming said.

Unlimited funds

If Colfax had unlimited funds available, ideally, Railroad would be completely reconstructed, along with Pine, Balsam and River Streets, and larger storm sewers would be installed along River Street to collect the water, Fleming said.

Colfax is not the only municipality without enough money to completely fix street problems, she noted.

Instead of planning on the road repair lasting 15 to 20 years, the village board will have to consider a shorter-term fix that lasts eight to ten years and then plan on going back to do more extensive repair when the money is available, Fleming said.

Logslett noted that a couple of catch basins along Railroad Avenue, in conjunction with creating a better grade for drainage, might be a workable temporary solution.

Fleming agreed and said if the work is done right, it could help the village to “maximize spending now and minimize future spending.”

“The problem is we will never come back (to Railroad). There are too many other streets that need work,” Bates said.

Deciding what to fix first when so much repair is needed can be overwhelming, but on the other hand, “you need to pick something and start,” Fleming said.

Approximately 30 or 40 tons of cold mix have been put on Railroad Avenue in the past five or six years, and it has largely been a waste of money, Logslett said.


Fleming said she could work up preliminary estimates for options to fix Railroad.

One option would be to repair the existing curb and gutter and not worry about installing new curb and gutter; install two or three catch basins; build up the road base and apply new blacktop.

The first option would be “bare bones” of what should be done to repair Railroad Avenue, Fleming said.

A second option would be to do the bare bones plus install a storm sewer that could hook into Pine Street and Balsam Street later on when the village is able to reconstruct Pine or Balsam, she said.

The third option would be a complete reconstruct of Railroad with new curb and gutter and sidewalk, Fleming said.

Railroad Avenue west of Highway 40 to West Street is in much better shape and will not need as much base, she said.

Committee members noted that any repair of Railroad Avenue will have to take into consideration what Cedar Country Cooperative is planning for a construction project.

Cedar Country is planning to move the car repair shop to the old fire station and remodel the existing building and gas pumps at the corner of Main and Railroad.

Streets committee members agreed that it would be best to limit the work on the east side of Railroad Avenue only to Balsam Street for the time being, although work on the west side of state Highway 40 can proceed all the way to West Street.

The streets committee is planning to meet again to review Fleming’s estimates and to present the information to the Colfax Village Board at the May 13 meeting.