Pothole season looms

Many city streets have poor pavement conditions


This story has been corrected. Lynnhurst is tentatively scheduled for repaving in 2014, not 2013. 

Last summer, the city resurfaced most of the residential streets in Linden Hills. The neighborhood’s pavement had deteriorated to a “poor” rating by city measurements.

The Linden Hills project was one of several neighborhood paving projects in Minneapolis since Mayor R.T. Rybak boosted his budget for resurfacing streets back in 2008.

The increased funding has stabilized the city’s declining pavement condition index, but the mayor’s office acknowledges that the city’s pavement condition isn’t good. Since 1995, the city’s pavement condition index (PCI) has fallen from 82 to 70 in 2011, before it ticked up to 71 in 2011.

“Public Works believes that this level of investment will take the PCI back up,” said Rybak’s spokesman, John Stiles. “Is a PCI in the low 70s a good thing? No. It needs to be higher. It’s going to take many, many years of financial stability and the ability to have the capacity to borrow for rebuilding roads, to really tick that back up.”

The city is still recovering from several years of minimal funding for road projects dating back to the late 1990s. For instance, the city paved just 4 miles of city streets in 2007 and just 1.7 miles in 2001. From 1999 to 2007, the city paved 80 miles of road, an average of just nine miles each year.

That’s not much, considering Minneapolis is home to 926 miles of streets. Stiles said the city was focused on paying down debt and funding public safety in the first several years of Rybak’s time as mayor.

Then, starting in 2008 when the city had paid down much of its debt, the city increased its bonding for pavement projects under its Infrastructure Acceleration Program, Stiles said.

Since then the city has paved an average of 27 miles per year.

The city’s Infrastructure Acceleration Program, which began in 2008, was designed to “improve the condition of each resurfaced street for a period of approximately 10 to 15 years,” according to a Results Minneapolis report.

But based on the way the city plans to fund road pavements projects over the next five years — at 20.1 miles per year, on average — the city won’t meet that goal.

With about 800 city-owned miles of street, by paving 20 miles per year, it will take the city 40 years to repave a street it paved this year.

Stiles says miles paved aren’t an accurate way to measure street investment. The city has focused on arterial roads over the past five years — like the Nicollet Avenue South project. Over the past five years, Stiles said the city has improved nearly half of its arterial roads, which are heavily traveled.

Projects like Nicollet Avenue, which cost $3 to $4 million per mile, because they’re complete reconstruction projects, might last 50 to 60 years if they’re properly maintained, said Jeni Hager of Public Works.

“So, clearly, those are the roads that get the heaviest traffic, and so to conflate a minor residential street that a limited number of cars go over to a major arterial, is just the wrong way to measure it,” Stiles said.

Hager said more inexpensive resurfacing projects, like the one in Linden Hills, last 10 to 20 years.

The city plans to spend $49.5 million on street paving in 2013, and about $40 million a year for the next five years.

Future of streets

Prior to a major repaving project in 2012 that will finish in 2013, Linden Hills roads were in rough shape, one of about eight neighborhoods deemed “poor” by PCI guidelines. PCI measures the condition of roads by analyzing them at several different points.

Another “poor” neighborhood was Armatage, which the city also resurfaced in 2012.

There are a few neighborhoods in Southwest scheduled for repaving in the five-year capital budget: Lynnhurst in 2014, Fulton in 2016 and much of East Harriet in 2017.

But other neighborhoods, like Lowry Hill East, Kenny, Kingfield and Lyndale were rated last year to be in the 60-67 range, below the city average and below city standards. Those neighborhoods are not scheduled for repaving in the next five years, although Nicollet Avenue is being reconstructed and runs through Kingfield and Lyndale.

Hager, however, said capital budgets can easily fluctuate based on a number of factors.

This summer, the city is scheduled to resurface streets in the neighborhoods of Page, Cooper and Dorman North.

Hager points out that the city’s capital budget can fluctuate dramatically, so projects scheduled for upcoming years are far from a sure thing.

Mayoral candidate Cam Winton has made street conditions one of his central platforms. He says he would prioritize street funding over “bells and whistles” like bike lanes and car sharing programs, which is already done by private companies. 

“As mayor, I will prioritize city resources toward putting our pavement condition index back on a track of improvement and I will not spend city resources doing things that the private sector is already doing perfectly well,” Winton said.

The city’s goal is to get the CPI back into the upper 70s. Winton said he would restore it to the low 80s.

Stiles said a national investment in infrastructure mixed with responsible management of debt will provide a sustainable streets program.

“I think that the bigger picture,” Stiles said, “is that Minneapolis and every other city has more infrastructure needs than we can possibly meet, whether that’s paving, storm sewers, sanitary sewers —  you name it.”



Miles of city streets paved each year (there are 926 miles of road in Minneapolis)

2002: 4.5 miles

2003: 16

2004: 12.9

2005: 8.4

2006: 6.7

2007: 4

2008: 19

2009: 18

2010: 27.6

2011: 32.4

2012: 38.4

Projected in city’s capital budget

2013: 24.9

2014: 22.5

2015: 14.7

2016: 18.6

2017: 19.8


Source: Results Minneapolis


Pavement Condition Index  (on a 0-100 scale)

1995: 82

1996: 81

1997: 80

1998: 80

1999: 79

2000: 78

2001: 77


2003: 76

2004: 75

2005: 75

2006: 74

2007: 73

2008: 72

2009: 71

2010: 70

2011: 71


Source: Results Minneapolis