MinnPost – on the terrible state of Minneapolis City Streets
For two decades Minneapolis has been cutting back on street maintenance to the point that hundreds of roads are now in critical condition. Especially over the last decade, as it has absorbed $297 million in local government aid cuts from the state, the city has been forced to choose, essentially, between funding police or streets. And so, the streets have steadily deteriorated, their budget increases lagging those of other departments by roughly 20 percent.
It’s really pretty simple, as Kotke explained it. Like any maintenance issue, you can patch up the problems for only so long before the underlying structure begins to fail.
The city spends about $7.5 million a year from its general fund on street maintenance, Kotke said, but needs to spend triple that amount just to keep streets in their current deplorable state. It would take four or five times that amount — at least $30 million a year — to make actual improvement, he said. That’s because filling potholes and doing patchwork is relatively inexpensive, but rebuilding a street from the bottom up is extremely costly. That’s what needs to happen here in a lot of older American cities, he said.
“We’re not alone in facing this problem,” Kotke said. “Like a lot of cities, we just don’t have the money.”
Last week, in response to complaints, the City Council found an extra $1 million in a rainy-day fund and earmarked it for extra pothole-filling crews. But again, patching isn’t the long-term solution. The freeze-thaw cycle will create another urban moonscape next spring, and the next. With the Republican-led Legislature plotting yet another raid on the city budget, Minneapolis (and St. Paul, too, which has its own impressive collection of street craters) seems have only two options remaining: Pray for a permanent end to winter, or go back to gravel.
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$30 million per year spread over 380,000 people is $78 per year per resident, which is $0.21 per day per resident, which is as they say, pocket change. If only there were some mechanism by which drivers could pay in proportion to their use of transportation facilities, say, something proportional to how much fuel were consumed. Then maybe we could solve problems like this. The problem is governance. Roads should be re-conceived as a public utility, not a department of government.