Public Works director spells out bleak, expensive future for St. Paul roads

Without a significant increase in yearly spending by the city, St. Paul's rough streets will start failing completely in the near future, officials from the public works department warned members of the city council on Wednesday.

It was rough news for the council to hear but also not unexpected. The question now: Where to find the money?

Every eight years in St. Paul, every street gets a resurfacing. But, every 50 to 60 years, they need to be rebuilt entirely and, under current funding, that’s not even close to reality.

"The report we’re giving today is really intended to be a conversation starter," said St. Paul Public Works Director Kathy Lantry.

Speaking Wednesday, Lantry and city engineer Paul Kurtz told a city council committee that the 20-year outlook is bleak. And with the money they have -- $22 million a year -- the already rough streets will fall apart far faster than they can afford to rebuild them.

"So they’re going to deteriorate pretty quickly if we stay the course," Kurtz said. "If funding levels stayed constant, 80 percent of our residential streets would be in poor, very poor, serious or failed condition 20 years from now."

To get beyond the patching and resurfacing, to more aggressive pace of rebuilding, the need is more than double. The challenge for the council: Where to find another $29 million a year?

"To let the public know that we share their concern about the condition of the streets and that we have to make some really hard choices to get us where we need to get," said councilmember Jane Prince.

Prince blamed short-sighted decision-making two decades ago by council members for putting the city in the crisis. Officials say they are currently looking into methods to create the funds for the roads, including identifying new revenue sources or asking the state legislature for help.