Ness makes pothole-repair pledgeDuluth’s winter-scarred streets will receive some much-needed attention this spring, thanks to a $450,000 initiative Mayor Don Ness announced Wednesday.
By: Peter Passi, Duluth News Tribune
Duluth’s winter-scarred streets will receive some much-needed attention this spring, thanks to a $450,000 initiative Mayor Don Ness announced Wednesday.
Ness said the extra maintenance money will be used to hire about 20 additional seasonal workers to fill potholes and seal cracks on city streets. The work will begin as soon as local asphalt hot mix mills begin operating, probably in May, and seasonal workers will remain on the job for about 90 days, tending to about 500 miles of city street.
Ness expects the crews to fill every pothole in town, seal 100 miles of cracked road and cap
3 miles of damaged street with a couple of inches of asphalt.
The mayor launched a similar special initiative to combat potholes and cracks two years ago but didn’t see a need for extra spending last year after the mild winter of 2011-12.
“In many ways, the maintenance challenges are worse this year because of the flood damage we suffered,” said Ness, explaining that roads already compromised by June floodwaters were susceptible to even more damage this winter.
“It was a really tough winter for potholes,” he said. “We had that heavy rain in December, followed by a deep freeze in January and a constant freeze-thaw cycle for the past couple of months.”
“When we have a bad winter like this, we want to respond more aggressively, so we can get ahead of the game,” Ness said.
The $450,000 Ness will use to tackle street repairs this spring comes from unspent money in last year’s budget. The mayor said the city has gone from operating with a $1.5 million deficit when he first took office to now boasting a $7.5 million reserve equivalent to 10 percent of the general fund budget.
The money the city invests in sealing cracked roads will be well-spent, according to Ness, who estimates the work typically extends the life of a road by 10 to 15 years.
While the city ramps up spending on street maintenance, most of its money to rebuild or construct new roads has dried up. Duluth used to receive more than $6 million per year from a casino revenue-sharing agreement with the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, but those payments were discontinued in 2009, prompting an ongoing legal battle. The city had come to rely on the money to pay for street improvements.
“We don’t have a revenue source for road reconstruction any more because of the band’s decision to withhold payments. And that makes it all the more critical for us to continue to invest in the maintenance of our street system to extend the life of our roads,” Ness said.
Duluth City Councilor Jim Stauber suggested the city should have begun setting aside other money for road reconstruction as soon as the band stopped sharing casino revenues,
But he said dealing with the issue would have required the city to increase revenue through higher taxes, decrease services through cuts or make a combination of difficult decisions. He said he’s disappointed that city administration and the City Council have not proposed a permanent solution.
“I’d liken it to a building where the foundation is crumbling and the structure is in poor shape, yet we’re outside painting it,” Stauber said.