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COUNTY CONNECTIONS: Unorganized Territory (UT) Roads

Oct 01, 2021 08:04AM ● By Editor
Photo: Cook County MN

By Cook County Highway Engineer Robert Hass from Cook County MN - October 1, 2021

You may be wondering, “What’s with all the new UT signs in Cook County?”

There are numerous road designations in our county, including trunk highway (TH), US Forest Service/Forest Service (USFS/FS), MN Department of Natural Resources (DNR), and private. County roads comprise county state-aid highways (CSAH), county roads (CR) and now unorganized territory (UT) roads. 

Each of the above-mentioned county road designations has rules on why they are designated as such and what kind of money the highway department receives from the state for those types of roads. For example, we receive annual construction and maintenance allocations from the state for CSAH routes 1-23, and that money can only be spent on those routes. County roads 24-103, on the other hand, receive no money from the state and are levy-dependent. 

That’s where the UT road designation comes into play, as it has allowed Cook County to redesignate 57 miles of county roads and secure additional funding from the state for those miles.

Bear with me because now we’re going to get into the weeds. MN Statute 163.11 Subdivision 1 says county boards can “…establish, alter, revoke, or vacate by resolution…” county roads. Subdivision 5 of that statute says any highway revoked by a county board reverts to the town in which it is located. Now, if the road in question isn’t in a town or city, it meets the first qualification to be an unorganized territory road. The next qualifier is to determine which roads outside of city or township limits we consider major or minor collectors. For example, CR 45/Pike Lake Road meets the first qualification in not being within city or township limits, but it is considered a major collector and therefore cannot be designated a UT road. Essentially, for UT purposes, we’re looking at low-traffic-volume roads not within city or township limits.

This is where I get excited. MnDOT State Aid has a funding pot for Town Road and Town Bridge accounts. Basically, money gets sent to counties, which then gets distributed among its townships if they declare town road miles. In the past, this has only applied to Schroeder, Tofte, and Lutsen, with a collective total of around 5 miles.  Those 5 miles generate about $3,000 in revenue, which is distributed to those townships for town road maintenance.

Here’s where it gets more exciting, UT roads qualify for the Town Road and Town Bridge accounts, too. (Think of it as an imaginary town called “Unorganized Territory.”) Now, instead of just 5 miles being declared, we have 62 total miles. Our townships still declare approximately 5 miles and still receive around $3,000, but now the highway department receives approximately $30,000 annually to offset maintenance costs on our 57 miles of UT roads. Not only that, but we have eight bridges that qualify for the Town Bridge account. This means eight structures with an average cost of $500,000 each are not solely levy dependent anymore!

In short, redesignating a number of county roads as UT has secured a new funding stream for the highway department. The initial cost of the signs was about $3,000, which is more than made up for in the $30,000 annually we will receive for road maintenance – and the new funding source for qualifying bridge replacements. Definitely a worthwhile investment.

County Connections is a column on timely topics and service information from your Cook County government. Cook County – Supporting Community Through Quality Public Service.


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