Friday, March 28, 2014

A Hole-istic Approach for Repairing Minnesota Streets

It's going to be a bumpy ride.
'Tis the season when drivers on Minnesota city streets and roads have (nearly) officially traded snow and ice for axle-jolting potholes. Though the appearances of roadway holes, fractures, and splits are typical post-winter sights in our beloved state, the past season—featuring multiple polar vortex visits—has proved to be particularly stressful for motorists.

Before you put a down payment on that Florida condo, though, consider this: the horrid winter weather should not get all of the blame for the condition of neighborhood streets in our Minnesota cities. Indeed, just as state government has fallen behind in making transportation investments in state-run highways, some cities faced with budget challenges in recent years have made the difficult decision to delay scheduled street projects that might have mitigated some of this season's March pothole madness. As League lobbyist Anne Finn noted in recent legislative testimony, "Much of the condition of our roads is a result of neglect. What we hear from city engineers is that they need the tools and resources to get the repairs done."

While the state has indeed proposed to grant an emergency allocation of $15 million for the latest spring pothole fixes, a longer-term solution is needed for city streets in Minnesota. League-backed Street Improvement District authority legislation has been introduced that would allow cities to collect fees from property owners to fund municipal street maintenance, construction, and reconstruction. The bill would help property owners in a community fund expensive street projects by paying relatively small fees over a period of time—a better alternative to special assessments.

Finn notes that quick passage of the legislation could save cities millions of dollars down the road. In fact, for every dollar spent on maintenance, a road authority saves about $7 in repairs at a later date—a staggering difference in cost for local taxpayers in the state. Pothole prevention is substantially less expensive than pothole remediation.

Unfortunately, the Street Improvement District authority legislation is currently stalled in the House and Senate tax committees. It's possible though, that with enough city officials and city residents contacting legislators to express support, legislation could resurface at a later date as part of an omnibus bill, or as a stand-alone bill. Something to think about while you're between calls to auto repair shops to get realignment estimates.

Watch LMC's video on Street Improvement Districts featuring Minnesota city officials:

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