Thursday, April 21, 2011

In Every Pothole There is Hope

As anyone who has recently driven or biked on a Minneapolis street knows, the pothole situation is bad. Unfortunately the solutions are expensive and not likely to get better anytime soon.

Minneapolis public-works director, Steve Kotke, estimates that the city spends $7.5 million dollars a year from the general fund on street maintenance. But Kotke believes that three times that amount is needed just to maintain the roads as they are now. Kotke also estimates that $30 million would be needed before we could actually see improvements to the street infrastructure.

Other costs not accounted for in the pothole equation is the damage done by potholes to a driver’s car. Nationally, drivers incur an average of $330 dollars in repair bills to their cars.

The Minneapolis city council recently applied a band-aid to the problem by approving an additional $1 million dollars to double its pothole repair crews. But, as City Council member Betsy Hodges pointed out, the short-term fix undermines the long-term financial resources for road improvements. “This is another example of the city having to eat its seed corn in these times,” Hodges said. “These are dollars that otherwise would have ... extended the life of our roads.”

Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak puts a large amount of blame on decreased Local Government Aid funding from the state legislature as a major financial crimp in its ability to deliver core services, including street repair. Ironically, the City pays significantly more to the state than it receives in LGA payments. As Rybak likes to point out “This year alone, we will send $367.5 million more to the state in sales and property taxes than the state has promised us back in LGA.”

But, the grim reality of the system is that we may simply have too many roads. As Steve Berg of notes “Among the largest 20 metropolitan areas, we rank third in road miles per 1,000 persons.” With the escalating costs of road repair and construction, not to mention fuel, policy options such as improving transit and increasing housing density may help reduce our dependency on road infrastructure while also increasing our long term competitiveness as a region.

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