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A pothole champion is Nicollet Avenue S. between Lake and 40th, which was last paved in 1977. Repaving is slated for 2012-2013.

Brian Peterson , Star Tribune

Millions spent, yet Minneapolis streets crumble

  • Article by: STEVE BRANDT
  • Star Tribune
  • July 8, 2011 - 12:22 AM

Minneapolis streets are seeing an axle-rattling decline in pavement conditions, despite Mayor R.T. Rybak's program to speed up repairs.

In the third year of Rybak's five-year $19.25 million acceleration of street repairs, engineers rated the average condition of city streets at 70 on a scale of 100, down from an 82 average in 1995. The rating has slipped by a point in each of the first two years of Rybak's street-spending surge.

The mayor says things would have been worse without his extra spending, and that repaving is taking place at levels not seen since the late 1990s. Street paving mileage jumped from four miles in 2007 to an expected 32.4 miles this year. Still, the mayor acknowledged that streets have suffered as he's focused declining funds on public safety.

"This is a huge problem that has been simmering for a couple of decades and the situation would have been much worse had we not stepped in," Rybak said Wednesday. "We have to do much more."

Motorists, cyclists and mechanics don't need official ratings to tell them the streets are falling apart. Ed Felien's 1990 Volvo was in the shop this week after he bent a wheel rim in a pothole on E. 42nd Street.

"When I hit it, it just shattered me -- bam," said Felien, a community editor-publisher and former City Council member.

The potholes were filled in May on Lori Gleason's "minefield" of a street, 31st Avenue S. in Seward, but not before they bent two rims on her 1999 Chevy compact.

The city's bumpy streets could have political repercussions for Rybak and the City Council. Sixty percent of residents surveyed late last winter say they're unhappy with the condition of the streets, ranking them dead last among city services. That's up from just 17 percent who were unhappy with the roads as recently as 2003.

According to ratings this year by city public works staff, the worst residential streets were found in the southwest neighborhood of Armatage, Gleason's area of east Seward, and several areas straddling Olson Memorial Highway. All had ratings in the mid 50s, or "poor," in the city's pavement condition index, which reviews streets on a three-year cycle.

In 2008, Rybak announced his accelerated paving program, with the intention of smoothing the ride on 43 of the 206 miles of city-maintained arterial streets and parkways.

The money to do it came from the city's proceeds from selling its stake in the downtown Hilton Hotel. Other one-time dollars came from federal money for resurfacing streets that got extra use while the I-35W bridge over the Mississippi River was out.

Rybak got the council last fall to adopt a new proposal to increase repaving by $9 million a year. That money hasn't been spent, however, because the repaving plan is based on the shaky proposal that the Republican-controlled Legislature will give the city its full amount of state aid.

Rybak says cuts in state aid are a big reason for the poor shape of city streets. In the face of those cuts, Rybak said, he chose spending on police over public works.

With a rating of 31, one of the roughest roads is Nicollet Avenue S. between Lake and 40th streets.

The street was paved in 1954, and got a fresh layer of asphalt in 1977. Like other aging arterials, its bumpiness comes as much from repeated patching as from potholes. Repaving is slated for 2012 and 2013.

Todd Duvick, co-owner of Amigo Service Center on Lyndale Avenue S., ranks Nicollet and 31st as among the most bone-jarring streets nearby.

"It shows up in broken parts, broken sway bar links, broken coil springs. It shows up in bent wheel rims," Duvick said. "It's good for our business but it really stinks for the customer."

Bicycle mechanic J.R. Roloff twice has lost bike wheels to a pothole on Blaisdell Avenue S. "It folds the wheel right in half," said Roloff. A friend of Roloff's lost a $350 rim to a pothole while riding home one night earlier this week on W. River Parkway. "My bike light picked it up and his didn't," Roloff said.

Streets in middling condition are getting the most attention from Rybak's repaving program, thanks to a cheaper but shorter-lasting fix that involves shaving their surfaces and adding a new layer of blacktop. Some streets are too far gone for that repair and will need total reconstruction, including a new base and curbs. But that's so expensive that the city expects to do less than a mile of that work this year.

The city's newest streets aren't getting much attention. The seal coating with oil and rock chips that the city once did on a 10-year cycle has virtually stopped, even though those streets are expected to break up faster as a result.

The city can't issue debt to finance maintenance work, so filling cracks and seal coating get deferred, according to Council Member Sandra Colvin Roy. Moreover, the city has diverted money from paving for the past two years to respond to the annual late winter rash of potholes.

The Public Works Committee she chairs will get a fresh look at the city's infrastructure funding gap later this summer. Colvin Roy said some have suggested a street-maintenance fee but she doubts it will be accepted, given public skepticism about another proposed fee for street lighting.

Will the deterioration of streets continue?

"I don't have an answer," Colvin Roy said.

Steve Brandt • 612-673-4438

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