Things are looking up for Minneapolis streets.
On Wednesday Mayor R.T. Rybak announced a 42 percent increase in spending that will improve almost 55 miles of roadway. The infusion comes after a series of stopgap city investments and a return of some long-lost state aid.
The annual road construction preview marks the first time in his three terms that Rybak could show the condition of city streets stabilizing after nearly 20 years of decline, according to the city’s pavement rating system.
Rybak and city officials spoke at a new bridge over Bassett Creek that will link the North Side to the downtown area when it’s done in August.
At the League of Minnesota Cities, transportation lobbyist Anne Finn said the state aid boost will help cities. “Universally, they say that keeping up with road maintenance and construction and transportation needs is one of their biggest challenges,” she said.
Cuts in state local government aid eventually cost Minneapolis $47 million annually. The crimp in the city’s budget forced difficult choices between public safety and streets. But as driver concern over potholes mounted, Rybak dipped into money reaped from selling the city’s stake in the Hilton hotel, using that plus added bonding to try to arrest the decline. Now $12 million of the city’s state aid will be restored next year.
“We are finally beginning to move in the right direction,” Rybak said last month. “We still have a long ways to go.”
Rating city streets
City streets are rated on a scale of zero to 100, with 100 being freshly paved streets. Back in 1995, the average rating for city streets was 82. It slid all the way to 70 in 2010, when it bottomed out before rising one point in 2011, where it has remained since.
For the city’s arterial streets, which carry the bulk of the motorist miles, the picture is even more encouraging. That rating jumped from a 55 to a 60 because Rybak focused on those roads. Those state-aid roads also benefit from an extra $2.8 million annually from the state’s highway user fund, mainly from the 2008 gas tax hike.
The overall condition of residential streets rose by a point last year for the first time in more than 15 years, thanks largely to the resurfacing of about 25 miles of arterial streets. Ratings also rose for other local streets serving places such as industrial areas, while parkways stabilized.
For 2013, residential streets within Seward, Cooper, Page, and Linden Hills neighborhoods will get a “shave-and-repave” resurfacing. Almost a mile of West River Parkway already has been resurfaced, and Minnehaha Parkway next to Hiawatha Golf Course also is scheduled. The heavy-duty reconstruction of streets too far gone to resurface mostly will be limited to short segments, except for Penn Avenue south of W. 54th Street.
Rybak touted the progress the city has made in arresting pavement decline. It’s like your teeth, he said Wednesday. “If you don’t fill the cavities, you’re going to have an expensive and painful root canal,” he said.