It may not surprise those who regularly drive or bike in Saint Paul, but many of the city’s streets are nearing a critical juncture. If funding levels are not increased, 60 percent of them will be in serious or failed condition within 20 years and 90 percent will be in serious or failed condition within 30 years, according to a new report reviewed on April 28 by the Saint Paul City Council and Department of Public Works.

The report was released prior to the drafting of the city’s 2022 budget. Officials hope it may help in securing financial assis­tance through the American Rescue Plan or other economic stimulus and job creation programs.

Saint Paul Public Works officials would like to accelerate the city’s Residential Street Vitality Program (RSVP) that began in 1996. They would also like to develop a mill and overlay program to extend the useful life of residential streets. Streets that receive sealcoating and mill and overlay work can last up to 60 years without reconstruction. A street that does not receive regular maintenance will only last about 25 years.

“Now is the time for us to start doing mill and overlay projects,” said city engineer Paul Kurtz. “Once your street deteriorates, it can go pretty quickly.”

Saint Paul uses a pavement condition index (PCI) to rate the condition of every street in the city. The streets are rated on scale of 1-100 with 100 being best. The average ranking for all of the city’s streets is currently 58. Residential streets have an average PCI of 60.

Saint Paul uses a pavement condition index (PCI) to rate the condition of every street in the city. The streets are rated on scale of 1-100 with 100 being best. The average ranking for all of the city’s streets is currently 58. Residential streets have an average PCI of 60.

The city began a major initiative to reconstruct its streets in 1985 in conjunction with a sewer separation project that was mandated by court order to keep raw sewage from flowing into the Mississippi River. The final sewer separation project wrapped up in 1995. With about 200 miles of city streets still needing work, RSVP was launched. The goal was to complete RSVP in 10 years.

 

house ad

 

Sixty-eight of the total 88 RSVP projects have been completed, according to Kurtz. With the help of private contractors, Public Works used to complete four to five projects each year. However, rising costs and the competition for funds from other capital improvements meant that no more than one or one-half of a project has been done in recent years. Under the current schedule, RSVP is not expected to be completed before 2051.

This year the city will complete the second half of the Griggs-Scheffer project. RSVP projects that have been scheduled in coming years include Cambridge-Princeton (2032), Portland-Victoria (2036-37), Finn-Jefferson (2038), Albert-Goodrich (2039), Ashland-Arundel (2040-41), Marshall-Dayton (2044-45), Grotto-Goodrich (2046-48) and the second phase of Woodlawn-Jefferson (2051).

The estimated cost of the 20 pending RSVP projects is $878 million if done over the next 30 years. If the city had the resources to complete all of the projects this year, the cost would be $342 million.

The estimated cost of the 20 pending RSVP projects is $878 million if done over the next 30 years. If the city had the resources to complete all of the projects this year, the cost would be $342 million.

Kurtz pointed out that the earliest street reconstruction projects done as part of the city’s sewer separation program were completed 36 years ago and are in need of maintenance. The city fills cracks and potholes when they appear. It sealcoats residential streets every eight years. Sealcoating involves applying hot liquid asphalt to a street and covering it with fine aggregate.

More extensive mill and overlay work involves grinding off a few inches of pavement and replacing it with new pavement. The city does not typically do mill and overlay work on residential streets. However, Kurtz said, regular mill and overlay work could help by preventing water pooling and pothole problems and allowing crews to address utility and manhole covers that stick up above the street. Best practices call for mill and overlay work every 20-25 years, he said.

According to Public Works officials, two-thirds of the city’s residential streets, or a total of 382.4 miles of roadway, could use mill and overlay work. However, it comes with a cost. The city currently spends $12.5 million per year on street reconstruction and $4.5 million per year on sealcoating. It would need much more than that to accelerate the RSVP program and implement mill and overlay work on residential streets. Failing to provide additional funding will have “significant consequences” as more than half of the city’s streets will be undrivable, according to Kurtz.

The City Council reviewed several scenarios for increased funding for streets on April 28. The best-case scenario would involve an additional $36 million from city resources and $10 million through assessments on abutting property owners. That would provide annual budgets of $43.5 million for street reconstruction, $15 million for mill and overlay work and $4.5 million for sealcoating.

If the best-case is achieved, 80 percent of the city’s residential streets will be in fair or better condition in 20 years, according to Kurtz. That would allow the city to meet the industry standard of an average PCI of between 65 and 70.

— Jane McClure

COMMENTS TERMS OF SERVICE

The Villager welcomes comments from readers. Please include your full name and the neighborhood in which you live. Be respectful of others and stay on topic. We reserve the right to remove any comment we deem to be profane, rude, insulting or hateful. Comments will be reviewed before being published.

Leave a Reply