March 2017 Vol. 25, No. 1

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Road tours: Know your roads for good maintenance

Image of side of the road

Elements to inspect include shoulders, ditches, culverts, road signs,
mailboxes, and public utilities. Photo: Shutterstock

Spring is an excellent time to conduct a road tour to observe and record the overall conditions of your roads and to identify needed maintenance to ensure the public health, safety, and welfare regarding the use of public roads.

Be reminded that a “road” is more than the travelway or driving surface even though the term “road” often refers to the improved portion of the overall right-of-way that is used for travel. There are several elements of a road including:

  • Right-of-way – the overall width of the road
  • Travelway – the driving surface
  • Shoulders – support the driving surface, often integral with the driving surface of a gravelsurfaced road
  • Inslopes – support the driving surface and are part of the ditch
  • Ditch – supports the road bed, conveys water, provides snow storage
  • Backslopes – are part of the ditch
  • Appurtenances – such items as culverts, road signs, public utilities, mailboxes, E911 address signs, etc., that exist in the right-of-way

MN2050: state of the infrastructure

A report from MN2050 looks at the state of Minnesota’s infrastructure. According to the report, few local jurisdictions know the specific conditions and value of their infrastructure, and no state-level agency knows the aggregate characteristics of all of Minnesota’s infrastructure. In addition, there is little consistency in the tools and systems used by the state’s asset managers.

MN2050 is a coalition of Minnesota engineering and public works organizations.

All elements of a road need to be observed or inspected on a regular basis and should become part of a spring road tour. It is important to note what has changed since the last road tour or inspection. The appearance of the driving surface becomes obvious while driving a road, but look for unusual conditions and degradation in general along with suspicious wear and tear—all of which may suggest a need for maintenance.

Have winter conditions caused issues or problems that need to be addressed? Are there concerns about the relative condition of the overall right-of-way and ditch area such as tree windfalls, debris or discarded garbage, or even hay bales that were not picked up in the fall? These concerns may pose a liability risk in the event of an accident involving an errant vehicle or they may restrict lawful uses of the right-of-way as well as impact water quality. Have winter snowplowing and late fall or early spring rainfalls caused excess material to wash into ditches resulting in sediment buildup, thereby causing potential drainage issues? Is ditch cleaning necessary as a result?

Observing the condition of the various appurtenances that may exist within the right-of-way is an important aspect of a road tour. It is easy to concentrate on the driving surface and the immediate adjacent area while often unintentionally ignoring culverts, signs, public utilities, etc. It is important to know that culverts are in good functioning condition; note any damage such as crushed ends, particularly at driveways and other entrances caused by vehicle runoffs or private snowplowing. And, make note of culvert end conditions regarding scour and erosion—is end treatment appropriate such as rip-rap or aprons?

Traffic signs have been installed for good reasons and contribute to the overall safety of a road. They need to be maintained in a proper manner. Leaning or twisted sign installations resulting from snowplowing and excessive winds may no longer be visible, rendering them ineffective in providing road users with the information intended. The failure to properly maintain traffic signs once installed can become a serious liability risk.

Public utilities that exist above ground should be so noted in terms of any conditions that may contribute to a public nuisance or particularly to a hazard or safety concern. Such conditions might be exposed cables due to erosion, open or uncovered electrical or other cable junction boxes, sagging overhead wires, sagging support/anchorage devices, or leaning poles—if it looks unusual, report it to the appropriate utility company.

Similarly, if mailbox supports have become unsightly or damaged over winter due to no negligence of the [agency], there should be an effort to encourage owners to repair or install acceptable mail box supports, especially if existing ones represent a safety concern or roadside hazard.

What do we do with the information collected once a road tour is conducted? It is reasonable to make a record of the tour: date, time, who participated in the “drive-about,” roads inspected, and what was observed. The information acquired can be useful in planning maintenance activities for the summer along with other road activities...

Subsequently, whatever may be planned should recognize the urgency to address immediate liability risks and safety issues that can be resolved with routine maintenance activities performed by your maintenance [employee] or regular contractor. Major and more costly maintenance activities can be planned consistent with overall goals and funding availability. Having a record of inspecting your roads and having a plan of action can be very helpful in explaining matters to your constituents as well as defending against a potential legal claim.

A follow-up tour in the fall allows for the “inspection” of maintenance work accomplished during the summer and to note work needed prior to winter and/or desired in the future. It is good to know your roads!

—Duane A. Blanck, P.E., former Crow Wing County Engineer

(Adapted with permission from the Minnesota Association of Townships’ Minnesota Township Insider, spring 2016.)