Roadwork costs take a toll on Minneapolis property owners

  • Article by: MAYA RAO , Star Tribune
  • Updated: April 27, 2014 - 9:00 PM

As special assessments for roadwork surge, Mpls. property owners must pay big bills.

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Cars driving on E. Minnehaha Parkway along Lake Nokomis tried to dodge potholes in the roadway Tuesday, April 23, 2013, in Minneapolis, MN.](DAVID JOLES/STARTRIBUNE) djoles@startribune.com On a stretch of West River Parkway, southbound drivers have been known to shift into the oncoming lane to avoid the plethora of potholes. The surface has been patched so many times that the jolting can leave a cyclist feeling scatter-brained. Help is on the way for this stretch of road, which will be closed next week for repairs.

Photo: David Joles, Star Tribune

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A large garden shop in southwest Minneapolis was facing a double whammy.

Not only did Wagner’s have to close for several months last year during repairs on Penn Avenue S., but the city hit the family-owned business with a $194,813 bill to pay for its part of the street work from W. 54th Street to Hwy. 62.

Though the business appealed to lower the fee, it was still substantial. “I think if anyone actually really knew what we spent, it would be, ‘whoa,’ ” said manager Julie Wagner.

As Minneapolis pushes to repair more old, crumbling roads, it is charging millions of dollars to people who own property on them, from a major golf course off Lake Calhoun to homeowners in Near North and Linden Hills to sprawling hospitals and colleges. Even churches and nonprofits foot their share of the bill.

Special assessments for roadwork have surged in Minneapolis over the last three years, jumping 50 percent to $11.7 million in 2013. About half that came from the southwest, where residents have long complained about high taxes.

The extra roadwork dates to a city decision in 2008 to do less time-consuming, expensive street reconstruction. Instead, the city said, it would improve more roads by increasing its street resurfacing: a simple, cheaper alternative that would extend the life of a road by a decade.

That meant that special assessments totaling $2.3 million in 2007, before the new approach, jumped to triple that in many of the years since then, peaking last year.

Much of the roadwork in recent years has targeted downtown, Linden Hills and Armatage, and areas by the University of Minnesota and Lake Nokomis.

Minneapolis expects to assess property owners another $6.4 million this year as it plans roadwork that includes the southwest edge of Lake Nokomis, Lowry Hill East and the area east of Theodore Wirth Parkway in Willard Hay. Reconstruction will continue along Penn Avenue. S., from W. 50th to 54th Streets, and other resurfacing projects will span along 4th Avenue. S. by the Convention Center and streets by the junction of Interstate 94 and Interstate 394 near Loring Park.

“The street conditions have improved from this resurfacing but it has resulted in more assessments because we’ve covered a lot more miles,” said Heidi Hamilton, deputy director of Public Works.

State aid and property taxes are not enough to pay for needed repairs, according to the city, and federal funds will not cover Minneapolis’ 600 miles of residential roads.

A better way?

Better roads would have prevented the explosion of potholes that motorists saw this winter since the craters can’t form unless moisture seeps into cracks in the asphalt. But some question whether special assessments are the best way to help pay for them, as construction costs rise and the housing market and economy are not as strong as they once were.

Anne Finn, a lobbyist for the League of Minnesota Cities, said street assessments have become less popular throughout the state, in part because residents and property owners dislike them. “It really comes with a sting,” she said.

The law requires a city to only collect money that increases the value of someone’s property, which is getting increasingly difficult to prove, she said. Some cities, she added, are deferring road projects or raising property taxes instead.

Well-maintained roads also matter as Minneapolis faces a development boom and is trying to bring in more people and jobs.

“Cities that are trying to attract businesses to invest, they really have to have good transportation infrastructure to go along with that,” Finn said.

The league wrote a letter to Gov. Mark Dayton and legislative leaders this month noting that fiscal constraints caused the poor condition of roads throughout Minnesota, and that the main funding sources for repairing streets, including special assessments, have limitations.

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