St. PAUL, Minn. (WCCO) — Thick clouds of white steam rose Wednesday from freshly laid, hot asphalt in St. Paul. Workers shovels were a gooey black as they scooped the asphalt from the bed of a dump truck and patted it down into holes along Snelling Avenue.
This year’s annual spring ritual of applying asphalt bandages to pockmarked roadways is as bad as anyone can recall.
“It’s the worst I’ve ever seen it,” said driver Lisa Luthi.
For motorists like Luthi, the rough ride down Twin Cities streets is both annoying and costly. Repair shops are flush with vehicles in need of shocks, struts and new wheel rims.
“I mean, you’re just worried about your car,” she said, “and you don’t want your shocks to go out or anything and ruin your car or your tires.”
State lawmakers are hearing plenty of pothole complaints. That’s one reason they are proposing legislation adding another $15 million in emergency pothole repair to a supplemental appropriations bill for transportation.
Under the proposal, $10 million would go to repair state highways and another $5 million would go to help counties and cities.
But don’t expect miracles and smooth sailing. When divvied up among 87 counties, the money is a mere drop in the bucket compared to what is spent each year to patch potholes.
Rich Lallier, St. Paul’s director of Public Works, said the fund won’t solve all problems on the road.
“But the axle busters…will be eliminated or greatly reduced,” he said.
St. Paul typically spends around $3 million annually for city-wide street maintenance. The city’s share of the proposed state fund would total only around $80,000 under the formula used to appropriate state aid.
That’s enough money to pay for a few loads of hot-mixed asphalt and to defray some of the cost of 21 seasonal workers the city has put on the street maintenance payroll.
“What it will really help us with,” Lallier said, “is being able to deal with working on Saturdays and getting that plant open, the asphalt plant, so we can fill potholes seven days a week.”
The job could begin along the heavily pockmarked Hamline Avenue, which is rated the worst among St. Paul’s 20 most damaged roadways.
Across the river in Minneapolis, the annual street maintenance budget will run roughly $8 million per year. Because of the damaging winter, the city has dedicated an additional $1 million in maintenance funding from a contingency fund to pay for extra pothole repairs.
Any extra money that is provided by the state — provided the pothole repair bill passes — would be used to defray that added expense.
As for a permanent solution, city engineers say what is needed is a much larger expenditure to totally rebuild the worst roads. In St. Paul alone that could take some $70 million to rebuild the 20 worst roads.
There comes a point when you simply can’t keep patching patches.