St. Paul’s street network has fallen into such disrepair that the city would have to double its maintenance spending to stay ahead of the potholes and pavement failures, according to a report from the city’s public works department.
The report, which comes as Mayor Melvin Carter prepares to give his 2020 budget address, says the city needs to spend about $50 million a year on street maintenance to meet recommended standards for pavement quality.
Public Works Director Kathy Lantry will present the report’s findings to City Council members Wednesday. She declined to discuss the report in advance.
Council Member Rebecca Noecker said in an interview Monday that a discussion about funding street maintenance has “been a long time coming.”
“I think we need to take a really honest look at our street conditions and not put our heads in the sand,” she said. “We need to be planning into the future and investing now so we’re not faced with a catastrophic situation.”
St. Paul’s street network includes 762 miles of city streets — arterial and residential thoroughfares — and 107 miles of county roads and state trunk highways. Public works measures pavement conditions using the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Pavement Condition Index (PCI), which ranges from 0 (failed) to 100 (good).
In St. Paul, the average PCI for all roads is 62, according to the public works report. In Minneapolis, where the City Council in 2016 voted to spend an additional $22 million a year on street repairs, the PCI is 66. The extra investment will continue until 2037 and grow with inflation, according to Jenifer Hager, director of transportation planning for Minneapolis public works.
Without a cash infusion, 35% of St. Paul’s arterial streets will be in failed condition and nearly 90% of residential streets will be in poor, very poor, serious or failed condition by 2039, the report said.
The findings didn’t surprise St. Paul neighborhood organization leaders, who said they hear frequent resident complaints about bumpy streets.
“In St. Paul, talking about the streets is like talking about the weather in Minnesota,” said Jens Werner, executive director of the Summit-University Planning Council. Though she doesn’t own a car, Werner said her Lyft drivers “are often commenting that we’ve got some rough roads over here in St. Paul.”
Kate Mudge, executive director of the Hamline-Midway Coalition, said she hears a range of concerns about streets in the neighborhood, often relating to traffic, parking and bicycle and pedestrian safety. Most complaints about pavement conditions come in the spring, she said.
“A lot of it is the typical, ‘Why are we spending our money on x, y or z when we’re dealing with as many issues around just basic transportation and potholes?’ ” Mudge said.
Pavement conditions vary throughout the city, and some of the worst are concentrated in low-income areas, according to the report. Jack Byers, executive director at the Payne-Phalen district council, said East Side neighborhoods want their share of investment.
“I’m not suggesting that poor-quality road is no problem in other parts of the city,” Byers said. “My point is that these neighborhoods are struggling, and these neighborhoods really need the infrastructure to be in solid shape.”
Under former Mayor Chris Coleman, public works crews worked their way through repairs on a list of deteriorated streets dubbed the “Terrible 20.” Under Carter, the 2019 public works budget included nearly $26 million for street maintenance, up from about $18 million in 2018. More than $1.7 million from the city’s general fund was dedicated to resurfacing downtown streets and neighborhood arterials.
The extra investment hasn’t kept up with the need, according to public works. City streets are designed to have a 60-year lifetime, the report says, but at current funding levels, arterial streets would be reconstructed every 124 years. Residential streets? Every 289 years.
The report said assessments, user fees and property taxes are ways to pay for additional street maintenance. There are also ideas for making fixes last longer, including truck traffic restrictions and experimenting with longer-lasting pavement mixes.