King of the road(s)
Ryan Odden has a short move to assume his position as Wadena County's new highway engineer April 1. He has been working as Todd County's assistant public works director and finishes his job there Wednesday.
Todd County allowed Odden to provide professional engineering services to Wadena County since former highway engineer Joel Ulring resigned last fall. Wadena County hired Odden to be its full-time engineer Feb. 26 after interviewing three other candidates.
Odden has been getting ready to make the transition from Todd County to Wadena County for the past month.
"I feel like I'm caught up and [can] leave them in a good spot," he said. "Now I'm anxious just to get started here."
Working in Wadena County gave him a chance to meet everyone in the department, he said. He enjoys all the personnel here, and said it's a very good staff.
"That makes it much easier to switch," Odden said.
He started working for Todd County in 2001 as an engineering supervisor, he said. He has enjoyed working there but was ready to make the next step in his career.
Odden, 31, is a Staples Motley High School graduate. He received a degree in construction engineering from North Dakota State University and is a registered civil engineer. He and his wife, Kristi, who works at the WorkForce Center in Wadena, live in a home they built southwest of Staples.
Odden has lots of family in the area and enjoys the outdoors rather than city life, he said.
His goal as highway engineer is to have safe, easily traveled roads for the residents of the county and those driving through it, he said.
"My job is to help everybody else do their job, make sure we spend the money wisely," Odden said.
He thinks money will get tighter as time goes on, he said.
"A lot of what a county engineer does is planning ahead, making sure his county is in the best spot it can be," he said. "And making the right choices on how are you going to get your roads to last longer so you're not spending money."
In a few weeks residents will see the maintenance guys out filling cracks, Odden said.
"Which people think is just to get tar on their cars," he said, "but it really does help the road last longer."
The filling helps keep the water out and preserves the pavement, he said. If you can get the roads to last three or four years longer, that savings really adds up.
The highway department receives federal funding, state aid dollars, the local county levy and safety money from both the federal government and state aid, he said.
"I think Wadena County is kind of in the same position as all the surrounding counties, trying to stretch that dollar," Odden said.
The highway department has some good long-range plans in place, he said, such as putting a couple miles of gravel down each year to keep the roads up.
This year's construction projects will begin in May and June, Odden said. They include a bridge project north of Aldrich and some paving in the Menahga area.
One of the first projects he wants to accomplish is an upgrade to GPS surveying equipment. It makes for faster, more accurate surveying, he said. It's been a real positive for Todd County and he anticipates everyone will like it here.
He's looking forward to seeing how things are done differently in Wadena County, he said. It's nice to go from one small county to another.
"You don't just have one job here," he said. "You're involved with different things."