Counties like Florence Face Tough Choices

County Truck Highway NN, between US-2 and CTH N in Florence County, is increasingly carrying heavy truck traffic as a detour around the Town of Florence on the way to the local industrial park.  This park has been home to timber and wood industry commercial operations for years. Recently, another large-scale lumber operation was constructed within the park. 

Forest products is the largest industry in Florence County. As a result, logging trucks cross the county from harvest sites to the county’s five sawmills and other wood-using businesses in the region. According to the Florence County Economic Development Commission, County NN is a key connector for the industry.

In an application to a grant program in the 2019-21 state budget, the county explained why CTH NN needs to be reconstructed. The proposed project would strengthen the road to better accommodate the forest products industry and enhance safety for pedestrians, snowmobilers, and ATV riders by widening the roadbed. Also, drainage, including culverts, would be improved, and frost heave that currently drives truckers to other routes would be reduced.

An owner of a lumber company operating out of the industrial park explained, “I find my truck drivers like the safest, easiest road, and if the road is not in good shape, they will not take it. They might go through residential roads instead to get to my place, so it’s very important that we keep up that road [CTH NN] to a high standard.”

The project’s cost was just shy of $700,000, well beyond what the county can manage without assistance.

So, when Florence County did not receive funding through the incredibly oversubscribed grant program, which received $1.5 billion in applications for a $90 million pool of funds, local officials had a tough choice to make. The county could watch this road vital to the local economy deteriorate at an ever-faster rate while waiting for reconstruction funds that may never appear or go forward with the treatment it could afford today.

Florence County is now planning a $300,000 mill and fill on CTH NN this summer. A mill and fill is a treatment that involves removing a portion of the existing surface and replacing it with new asphalt – 2 inches in this case. This project will preserve the road for a few more years.

“Work on this stretch of road was not on the schedule for 2021,” said Florence County Highway Commissioner Joe Witynski. “But with the increasing volume of heavy truck traffic, the road’s deteriorating condition, and its importance to local businesses, we needed to preserve the road. But when I move one project forward, I have to move another back. It is always about prioritizing.” 

While the average mill and fill will address surface smoothness for up to 10 years, Witynski estimates the benefits of this year’s treatment will last five to seven years because of the road’s current condition and amount of heavy truck traffic. 

Florence County is responsible for maintaining 102 county highway miles.

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