All signs point to road repair

Rybak to make paving a priority in 2009

For the first five years of R.T. Rybak’s mayorship, public safety has been his top priority. While it will continue to be, he said the city can no longer neglect funding for the city’s potholed roadways.

“It is … increasing clear we have to make some new investments in infrastructure, and it won’t be easy,” Rybak said. “It’s tough enough to find scarce dollars to put into infrastructure.”

While there is nearly unanimous agreement among the mayor’s office, City Council and public safety officials that there must be an increased investment in the city’s infrastructure in 2009, the main question is how much of an increase over this year’s $6.7 million roads budget will there be?

This year’s repair budget covered patching, crack sealing, very limited seal coating, utility repair and other work over 1,000 miles of Minneapolis streets, said Mike Kennedy, the city’s Transportation, Maintenance and Repair director.

The 2008 roads repair budget came mostly from revenue collected from property taxes. Next year, however, some gas tax dollars and municipal state aid can be put toward 200 miles worth of city streets, Kennedy said.

Usually, the city’s Pavement Condition Index (PCI) is one factor in determining which roads are repaired first, but Rybak said he is also seeking feedback from residents whom he encouraged to call 311.

“The best team are the 385,000 people who live here and can report in,” Rybak said. “We are actively encouraging citizens to call 311 report where they see potholes or road maintenance issues and that will help us track where we put our road resources first.”

Rybak has heard, recently, from multiple Southwest residents about the state of their streets. Recently, Lake of the Isles Parkway was pockmarked with potholes following the spring thaw, causing flat tires with increasing regularity for unfortunate motorists who ventured on to the Southwest street.

While potholes and public safety are at the forefront of ongoing budget discussions, the purification of the city’s air and lakes is next in line as a budget priority, Rybak said at a May 5 meeting with the Southwest Journal. How and where the funding will come from is what will be hashed out behind closed doors this summer, Rybak said.

“How we solve that is unclear and is the work of the next few months,” he said.

Rybak began meeting with city department heads in May and will meet with each council member individually in coming months to get a sense of priorities and help smooth a path towards increased funding to fix potholes.

While planning is under way, solutions may be down the road a bit. Chances are slim that a final budget proposal would be complete before Aug. 15, Rybak said.

“The solutions won’t come in a single year, there has to be a long-term plan,”
Rybak said. “It will take a long-term investment in infrastructure.”

The biggest infrastructure issue, aside from roads, is city bridges. Rybak said that the city has been “fairly good” about bridge maintenance, but he was disappointed Gov. Tim Pawlenty vetoed funding to repair the St. Anthony Parkway Bridge, which is structurally deficient and was scheduled to be replaced by 2011. Rybak said that while city engineers will continue to “keep a close eye” on the city’s 650 bridges, his funding focus will be on paving.

“You get up and give whatever speech you want, but unless you put your money where your mouth is, it doesn’t matter,” Rybak said. “And we have done that with public safety and we need to do that with infrastructure.”