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Minneapolis not keeping up -- how do your streets rate?

  • Article by: STEVE BRANDT
  • Star Tribune
  • February 15, 2012 - 10:13 AM

Kerry Cashman, who works for the Seward Neighborhood Group, doesn't need an engineer's scorecard to tell her that streets in the Minneapolis neighborhood are deteriorating.

She feels it in her bike wheels.

"There are areas where you couldn't ride in the dark without risking a wipeout," she said.

Two paving areas that make up a substantial portion of Seward's residential streets rank as the worst in the city. The areas are among 10 places in the city where pavement is scarred enough by age, weather and use that city engineers give it a "poor" rating. Potholes may get filled but they soon come back, Cashman said, and that causes complaining on the neighborhood's chat group each spring.

The city's most recent ratings show that the condition of the city's residential streets varies widely. Some get a perfect rating on a pavement condition index that ranges from 100 down to zero. The best are those recently resurfaced, but some of the worst haven't gotten any major work in decades. You can get a closer look at the streets in your area from the accompanying map. (For a more detailed look, go to www.startribune.com/a1043.)

One example is the Seward East residential paving project. The concrete streets were poured in 1966, according to city records, and haven't been resurfaced since. That's why the project area's streets rank a 51, tied for worst in the city's ratings.

But more recent work is no guarantee of a better rating. The adjacent Dorman North paving area in Seward got improvements in 1981, and again in 1993, but still is rated as poorly as Seward East.

"The streets are definitely deteriorating," said Sheldon Mains, who lives in Seward East. He's watched the concrete panels in streets there crack as they age and the gaps between them grow uneven as panels heave and sink. But so far he's not heard people clamoring for paving repairs.

The city has about 150 such paving areas, usually subsections of neighborhoods. They're defined by when the oiled streets in each area were converted to asphalt or concrete under a 30-year residential paving program that the city began in 1966.

Now the bill for resurfacing those streets is coming due, and the city is far behind schedule on its original goal of doing substantial resurfacing of a street 30 years after the original paving. A recent infrastructure study estimated that the city needs to spend $133 million more than it is now on track to spend by 2030 to avoid further residential deterioration.

Not paved since 1961

Probably the oldest paving area, the Luella Anderson addition in a late-developed corner of the Longfellow community, was paved in concrete and hasn't been repaved in the 50 years since, city records show. That's despite slipping to a rating of 62, or just above the level considered poor. It's not scheduled for any rehab work, and the city is still analyzing how to repair its roughly 150 miles of concrete streets.

Wealth and poverty don't seem to predict street quality. The Linden Hills paving project, a tonier area just west of Lake Harriet, ranks as one of the city's worst areas for streets. It's on the city's paving project list for next summer. So are some equally bad streets in the poorer Near North community. Ventura Village, another lower-income area, got street improvements last summer.

City Hall hasn't kept up with the hopes of its engineers that the streets built decades ago would get mid-life renovation to keep them functional for another 30 years. One reason is cuts in state aid to the city that cumulatively stripped it of $405 million in the past 10 years, while the city made policing a higher budget priority. More recently, Mayor R.T. Rybak has increased spending on paving, but most of that to date has gone to revamping higher-volume arterial streets, which as a group rank even lower than residential streets on paving condition.

Moreover, the city has switched strategies on residential paving. It cut back on seal-coating, which uses a mix of tar and chipped rock to protect a road surface. But because of the expense, the city also gave up on full residential street renovation, which would have covered a street every 200 years at reduced funding levels. So it typically resurfaces by milling away close to two inches, particularly near the gutter, and adds a fresh course of asphalt.

This mill-and-overlay technique costs the owner of a typical residential lot just over $1,100. But at 15 to 20 miles of such work annually, it will take the city 31 to 42 years to resurface all its residential streets, an unsustainable pace considering that the resurfacing is expected to last only 10 years.

Lower ratings ahead

Such factors explain why the citywide average rating for all residential streets dropped from 79 in 1998, which the city rates as good, to 70 last year, which is only "fair."

A Department of Public Works study released last year projected that at current spending, that rating will sink to the poor range by 2016, dropping to 45 by 2020 and still lower to 26 by 2030. But in general, residential streets are still in better condition than the city's more heavily used state-aid streets, which averaged a 65 rating in 2011.

Condition ratings are only one of the factors that the department uses to schedule where street work happens. Some of the others include crash data, maintenance records, conditions below the pavement and available money.

Steve Brandt • 612-673-4438

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