City: Yep, its bad out there

Residents aren’t the only ones who think Southwest has some of the roughest roads this winter

Andy Trawick is done driving in his neighborhood for the winter.   

The Linden Hills resident drove into an ice crater a few weeks ago near his home at 4347 Abbott Ave. S., spun into a snowbank and ended up with $850 worth of damage to his car. He said he knows others who have fared worse on the area’s lumpy, rutted, ice-packed roads.

“I don’t drive in the neighborhood anymore, for that reason,” Trawick said while shoveling snow from the sidewalk along Abbott. “I just take 44th and that’s it. And Zenith. But forget the neighborhood. These guys have cost me too much money this year.”

Trawick blames the accidents on poor road conditions from bad plowing, first evident after the large Christmas snowfall. He’s not alone in his criticism. Even Mike Kennedy, director of transportation, maintenance and repair for Minneapolis, acknowledged the terrible conditions.

“The streets in the Southwest corner of the city, for some reason, were worse than the rest of the city,” Kennedy said. “We’re not sure why it happened.”

No plows missed their routes, so Kennedy said he could only speculate that Southwest received more snow or rain during that holiday storm, resulting in worse conditions. Whatever the reason, he’s since sent extra crews with tougher equipment to the worst streets in an attempt to clean up the mess. So far, they’ve had some success.  

The main cause of rough streets throughout the city this year, Kennedy said, was an unexpected change in the weather Dec. 25. The city held off on declaring a snow emergency — which would have sent out the plows and required residents to move vehicles from certain streets — on Dec. 24 because forecasts predicted several additional inches of snow. The city also expected poor compliance with parking restrictions because it was Christmas Eve.

The next day, snow turned to rain, which froze and bonded to the streets in what Kennedy called a “bulletproof” way. By the time the snow emergency was declared, the ice was too thick for plows to easily remove.

Kennedy said many factors go into declaring a snow emergency, but weather forecasting is the biggest one and it’s never 100-percent dependable.

“If we had to make that decision again, given the same information we had at the time, it was the right decision,” he said.

Weeks after the storm, in response to numerous resident complaints and the urging of City Council Member Betsy Hodges (13th Ward), Kennedy visited a section of Southwest that was reportedly in worse shape than much of the city. Having received complaints from all over Minneapolis, he was initially skeptical, but once he got a good look at the area, he saw a clear difference in surface quality and sent crews to plow again. On some streets, they used a heavy machine called a motor grader to break up the ice.

The worst roads, he said, were in an area bordered by 44th Street to the north, 54th Street to the south, Xerxes Avenue to the east and France Avenue to the west. Additional focus on those streets, plus regular plowing after an early February snow emergency, has helped somewhat, but it will take a stretch of warm days to completely eradicate the ice, Kennedy said.

Until then, getting around could be tough for the area’s regular drivers, such as postal worker James Couillard, who bounced around the streets in his mail truck earlier this month. He recently got stuck in the snow and had to rely on his boss and a few friendly residents to get him out.

“The plowing around here is horrible,” Couillard said after carefully parking his truck on a cleared section of road.

Countless drivers, council member Hodges among them, have damaged their vehicles this year on neighborhood streets. The accidents are a boon for area auto shops, such as Southwest Motor Co. at 3509 W. 44th St. Owner David Smith said business is up roughly 20 percent over last year.

“A couple weeks ago you could have put on ice skates and gone up and down this street,” he said in early February, pointing out his window at 44th. “I painted a rear bumper and parked it right here and a postal truck was coming down. She hit her brakes and slid right into the one we had just painted.”  

Pat Mulroy, owner of Mulroy’s Body Shop at 3920 Nicollet Ave., said his shop installed 50 new bumpers during the first week after the holiday storm. Clipped side-view mirrors, a result of cars getting too close on streets narrowed by growing snow piles, are also common this year, he said.  

That narrowing problem prompted the city to launch winter parking restrictions Feb. 11, banning parking on the even side of non-snow-emergency streets through April 1. The restrictions do not affect streets designated as snow emergency routes or parkways and are implemented to help emergency vehicles navigate the city.

Those emergency vehicles will still have to traverse ice craters in some areas. Kennedy said the circumstances that led to this year’s problems were extraordinary, but as much as he’d like to, he couldn’t guarantee they wouldn’t happen again.   

“We’ll remember this,” he said. “We’ll watch more closely and see if we can react a little faster.”

Reach Jake Weyer at 436-4367 or [email protected]