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Grand Forks street paving choices come down to costs now vs. maintenance later

Construction crews excavate a street entrance to the Alerus Center on an unseasonably warm afternoon Wednesday. photo by Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald

Driving the streets of Grand Forks, the tires of your car are most likely on concrete.

While the city Engineering Department opts for concrete streets as a longer-lasting investment, at least one City Council member says asphalt streets should be used in new housing developments to lower the initial costs for homebuyers.

“I think we have to look at how we can make housing more accessible,” City Council President Hal Gershman said. One way of doing that, he said, is to lower homebuyers’ initial special assessment fees with asphalt streets instead of concrete streets.

Asphalt is a cheaper material, which allows for the lower costs upfront, but engineers say it requires more maintenance, leading to a higher cost for streets over time.

“A concrete street has a longer life than an asphalt street,” said Mark Walker, assistant city engineer. “Over the life of pavement, a concrete street is cheaper.”

But with Grand Forks’ housing shortage, the first priority should be to get people into houses quickly, and in a way they can afford, Gershman said.

“We need to help them get into a home, people aren’t concerned about the need for repairs 15 years from now,” he said.


The city of Fargo has asphalt streets in its residential areas, Gershman said. “I know people who live in those houses, for them it’s not a problem,” he said.

Fargo has concrete on the major roads with heavy traffic, said Jeremy Gorden, Fargo transportation engineer. But other than that, almost all of its streets are asphalt.

Like Walker, Gorden said, “It is cheaper upfront to do asphalt, but those streets require more maintenance over time.” He also agreed with Walker in saying that asphalt streets may end up costing more in the long run.

People’s income often increases over time, Gershman said, or they save money and would be able to pay for the maintenance special assessments over the years. But the more expensive initial fees with concrete streets are a challenge, he said.

The city of Fargo considered homeowners’ special assessment fees in choosing to build asphalt streets, Gorden said.

“I’m 95 percent sure that’s why asphalt was chosen,” he said.

Fargo’s residents are usually special assessed every seven years for maintenance on the asphalt streets, Gorden said. “There are costs every time you do that,” he said.

And those maintenance costs are what the Grand Forks Engineering Department aims to avoid with concrete streets, Walker said.

“We get a lot of complaints from the public when we do special assessments in existing neighborhoods,” Walker said. There are usually fewer complaints for special assessments when someone is initially buying a home, he said.

Local costs

The average special assessment that someone would pay on a new home in Grand Forks this year is $223 per foot of a lot’s border with a street, said Emily Fossen, senior accountant with the city Finance Department. That number is for concrete streets.

Fossen could not provide an estimate for asphalt streets in Grand Forks because the city hasn’t built an asphalt street in many years.

The $223-per-foot cost is applied to the number of feet of someone’s front lawn that borders a street, Fossen said. For a 70-foot front lawn, which is typical for Grand Forks, the full special assessment for a new street would be $15,610, she said.

Houses on a corner with a side yard bordering the street are not charged extra for this fee, Fossen said.

With concrete streets, the houses in Grand Forks are hardly ever assessed later for additional maintenance, Walker said. Asphalt streets would likely need maintenance about every 10 years, he said.

“I think that doing things right the first time is really the way you should do them,” Walker said.

Charly Haley
Charly Haley covers city government for the Grand Forks Herald. As night reporter, she also has many general assignments. Before working at the Herald, she was a reporter at the Jamestown Sun and interned at The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead, Detroit Lakes Newspapers and the St. Cloud Times. Haley is a graduate of Minnesota State University Moorhead, and her hometown is Sartell, Minn.
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