Here’s Duluth’s New Year’s resolution for 2020: Fix more streets.
The city should make good progress on that promise thanks to a half-percent sales tax increase that went into effect in October, nearly two years after city voters approved it. The increase is expected to raise $7.5 million a year for road projects.
About 17 miles of Duluth streets will be remade in 2020 after fewer than 3 miles were repaired by the city in 2019.
More than half of Duluth’s 450 miles of streets are rated in poor condition, and more than a half-billion dollars of work is needed.
For the first year of sales tax-backed repairs, the city “focused on maximizing the amount of mileage that could be fixed ... along with geographic equity to make sure there were projects in all areas,” according to the 2020 project plan.
Future projects will be similarly prioritized, though some areas could see more work than others “as the program matures,” the city said.
Voters approved the half-percent sales tax increase by a wide margin in 2017, but the Legislature didn’t implement it until 2019. The sales tax in city limits is now 8.875%, tying the city of Walker as having the highest rates in Minnesota.
A 2017 inventory of Duluth’s streets showed $446 million in repairs needed across the city, with an additional $56.8 million in bridge work and $31.5 million in various safety projects needed.
The Public Works Department warned then that “deferred maintenance due to inconsistent funding could worsen conditions and increase future costs even more.”
Other 2020 city street projects that won’t be paid for with the sales tax include the last year of downtown Superior Street reconstruction, work on the Lake Avenue bridge, a stretch of Central Entrance and a far eastern stretch of Superior Street.