Otter Tail County has 1,068 miles of roads to maintain on annual basis

By Tom Hintgen

Otter Tail County Correspondent

County commissioners, on Feb. 14, were at first stunned but later on not really surprised to learn that in the year 2022 Otter Tail County spent a total of $573,300 on diesel fuel. There are 1,068 miles of paved roads within the county lines.  ¶  Otter Tail County, with 2,225 square miles, is larger than the state of Rhode Island which has 1,214 square miles.  ¶  “The backbone of the highway system in Otter Tail County requires lots of financial investment,” says County Engineer Chuck Grotte. “County residents who have attended public meetings in previous years have expressed their desire for their roadways to be maintained at the highest level.”  ¶  Fuel consumption is especially high during the winter months.  ¶  “During the 2021-2022 winter season we spent $351,500 on diesel fuel,” Grotte said. “We’re projecting it will be close to $400,000 this winter, in 2022-23.”

County drivers, during the winter months, plow 2,100 lane-miles per snow event. It takes from 8 to 12 hours to plow a significant snow event with 3 a.m. to 3 p.m. a typical shift with only enough personnel to operate one shift daily.

Otter Tail County, since 2016, has administered a half-cent sales tax. Money from this tax is used for road and bridge maintenance. Also taking effect in 2016 was a county charge of $10 added to vehicle license tab renewals, later increased to $20 per vehicle in 2018. This money also goes to road and bridge maintenance.

County commissioners, over the years, have also emphasized to county taxpayers that the half-cent sales tax and license fees are necessary. That’s because, according to commissioners, other funding sources (state, federal, and county levy taxes) have fallen short of what has been needed for road and bridge maintenance in recent years.

More about county highway department

An engineering section of the Otter Tail County Highway Department, headed by Grotte, has a staff of nine people.

They are responsible for inspections, engineering design, and construction of highways and bridge projects. This section also provides technical support to other county departments.

The maintenance section of the county highway department, also headed by Grotte, includes 33 individuals who provide routine maintenance services to the highways and bridges throughout Otter Tail County. This total number includes three mechanics.

These operations are divided into five maintenance areas which contain a total of 10 garages in various sections of the county.