St. Paul City Council, mayor clash over street improvements

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Mayor Chris Coleman wants to repair the deteriorating streets this summer, but the City Council wants to rebuild, which is costlier.

Photo: File photo by ELIZABETH FLORES • eflores@startribune.com,

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St. Paul City Council members, embarrassed by the city’s crumbling roads and frustrated by what they consider an ineffective mayoral response, proposed Wednesday to spend $22 million to start rebuilding the city’s arterial streets.

Their plan is to use an unallocated $4.5 million that St. Paul is getting annually from the state — thanks to law changes and debt forgiveness — to cover $22 million in bonding for rebuilding arterials, as well as assorted repairs and investments in other main streets.

That would up the ante significantly above the $2.5 million that Mayor Chris Coleman wants to spend this summer to repair, rather than rebuild, some of the city’s rockiest and most outrage-provoking streets.

“It’s about priorities,” Council President Kathy Lantry said. “This sends a clear message to the public that we have heard you and we want to jump-start the program.”

Coleman plans to lay out a long-term sustainable plan for rebuilding streets in his August budget message, spokeswoman Tonya Tennessen said. In the meantime, he wants to fix the worst streets now, she said.

“The council’s plan is an interesting idea, but it doesn’t address the short-term need,” Tennessen said.

It’s the first time in more than two years that the City Council, dominated by DFLers, has found itself at serious loggerheads with St. Paul’s popular DFL mayor.

In December 2011, council members were not amused when Coleman tried to unilaterally divvy up a $2 million revenue windfall just as they were finalizing the budget.

In his State of the City address earlier this spring, Coleman said that long-term solutions were needed to reconstruct St. Paul’s “deteriorating infrastructure.”

The problem? It would cost more than $70 million to rebuild the city’s worst streets, what he called “the Terrible 20.” He called on Congress and the Legislature for aid, but neither came through with funding to help the city do more than simple repairs.

Tennessen said Wednesday that the city’s Public Works Department estimates it will cost $20 million per year for the next 10 years to reconstruct all arterial streets.

When council members learned of the $4.5 million in unexpected state money, they approached Coleman with their plan. But he seemed more interested in using the extra revenue for economic development, Lantry said.

The mayor’s $2.5 million repair proposal would take money from areas such as street sweeping and bike safety programs.

“The disagreement that we have right now is this infusion of cash to get us started on road reconstruction, versus mill and overlay,” Lantry said.

Six of the council’s seven members are backing the street improvement plan. “St. Paul needs to make this investment in our arterial streets to stay economically competitive,” said Amy Brendmoen, who represents the North End, Como and part of the East Side.

The only council member not listed as a supporter is Dave Thune, who represents downtown, the West Side and the W. 7th Street area.

Kevin Duchschere • 651-925-5035

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