Road commission OKs plan for Rio Tinto road upgrades

ISHPEMING – The Marquette County Road Commission voted unanimously Tuesday to approve an agreement with Rio Tinto for upgrading three existing county roads leading from the company’s Eagle Mine to Marquette.

The two-year agreement covers work to be done from the railroad tracks along Marquette County Road 550 – situated just north of the Dead River – to within three-quarters of a mile of the mine, located west of Big Bay.

Improvements are slated to begin this spring over roughly 34 miles of roadway, costing an estimated $44.4 million. The project is set to be completed by Nov. 30, 2014.

Road commission engineer-manager Jim Iwanicki said the agreement signed Tuesday was developed by road commission staff and Rio Tinto.

“It is to fund the improvements for county road 550, 510 and the Triple A to build it to an all-season standard,” Iwanicki said. “All the money won’t be available up front. There will be approximately $6 million to spend up to June 30 of this year and then Rio Tinto will be releasing more funds as they become available under this agreement.”

Rio Tinto spokesman Dan Blondeau said the company is happy to have a signed agreement with the road commission.

“We look forward to working with the road commission on upgrades to existing roads,” Blondeau said.

Iwanicki said the road commission selected a project design and build team in December including Bacco Construction, Payne & Dolan, Coleman Engineering and Zenith Tech. The road commission hopes to sign a contract with the team within the next week then work on detailed design will begin.

Of the $6 million initially being provided by Rio Tinto, half will be dedicated to construction costs, the remainder will be for engineering and other costs, Iwanicki said.

Work on CR 550 is slated to begin first, with Iwanicki hoping most of the paving will be completed by the end of this year. Improvements for CR 550 will take place over about 22.3 miles and include work on four bridges and 22 stream crossings at a cost estimated at $23.6 million.

Iwanicki said work on CR 550 bridges is expected to take place in 2014, along with the work on CR 510 and the Triple A Road. Improvements to CR 510 and the Triple A cover roughly 11.3 miles and involve one bridge and 20 stream crossings. The cost is projected to total $20.8 million.

The typical roadway cross section will consist of two, 12-feet-wide lanes with two shoulders 8 feet wide including 3 feet of paved surface and 5 feet of turf and gravel.

“The new alignment is anticipated to follow the current alignment except at the East Branch Salmon Trout River on the Triple A Road and near the CR 510-Triple A intersection,” the contract states. “A parallel alignment may be used if an analysis by the Marquette County Road Commission indicates that it is more economical.”

The agreement said local interest in preserving the tree canopy along the CR510 segment being improved could prevail and restrict the width of the road in that area.

If road work requires relocation of the existing power cable or fiber optic line to the mine, that cost will be funded separately.

Some additional costs expected include finalizing Michigan Department of Environmental Quality and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency permits needed for the work; soil erosion and sedimentation control permits and oversight; stream mitigation construction estimated at $200,000; wetland mitigation measures expected to cost $450,000; final engineering; right-of-way land purchase of 10 acres projected at $100,000; legal costs associated with the land purchase of $50,000; and costs of bidding, services, products or materials.

Construction engineering is estimated to cost $2.3 million, while about $4 million will be set aside for contingency costs. Final design and construction are projected at $36.1 million.

The road upgrades are expected to “improve the road structure, surface and functionality for both the traveling public and for Rio Tinto Eagle Mine vehicles to and from the mine and the (Humboldt) Mill,” the contract states.

Iwanicki said Rio Tinto was not obligated to fund the road improvements, but did so to improve its trucking schedule. The county benefits by having public improvements funded by a private entity.

“They want to have an all-season route that they can haul on 12 months of the year, that’s why they’re providing the money,” Iwanicki said.

If the roads were not upgraded, Rio Tinto’s trucking would be subject to seasonal road restrictions.

John Pepin can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 206.