The quick and long-term fix for potholes

We’ve all seen them, we’ve all felt them — and trust me, I have, too: potholes are back, and with the thaw that starts today, they’re going to get worse. I want to tell you how we’re fixing them both immediately and in the long term, and what you can do to help.

How you can help is simple: contact 311. We will immediately map your report into our GIS system and make sure the very worst ones on the busiest streets (and I know they’re all bad) are at the top of the repair list. Even if we can’t immediately fix the pothole you report, your help in helping us prioritize them is essential. I ask you to partner with us and be an extra set of eyes.

When it comes to repair, the hot asphalt that we need to permanently patch potholes will become available by late winter or early spring. Until then, we use something called “cold mix” to patch potholes: it’s a quick, temporary fix that doesn’t last as long as hot asphalt but makes streets passable until we can repair them permanently.

The long-term solution to the yearly freeze-thaw cycle that creates potholes, however, is not improving the weather but improving our streets, which is what we’ve been doing. Two years ago, we started the Infrastructure Acceleration Program that will resurface or sealcoat one-third of Minneapolis’ busiest arterial streets by 2013. For $5 million a year, we’ve now significantly extended the life of scores of miles of streets through the Infrastructure Acceleration Program — and the good news is that last spring, none of the arterials that we improved the previous year developed a serious pothole. We expect for the same results this spring on the streets we improved last year.

Because the Infrastructure Acceleration Program has shown that it works, the City Council and I added $9 million more per year to the City’s 2011 budget to improve many more miles of streets, including a major investment in residential streets. We will start this spring and continue for five years, on top of the ongoing Infrastructure Acceleration Program.

But there’s a hitch: we will be able to make that additional investment only if the State of Minnesota keeps their promise to us. This year’s budget is based on the assumption that the State will deliver the Local Government Aid that they promised for 2011 — but in the past several years, the State has passed down cuts instead of keeping its promise. These cuts have forced us to make tough choices, and over time, one of them has been to delay street maintenance so we could keep up investment in public safety. (If you think about it, the story of Minneapolis over the last several years is that the streets are safe to walk on precisely because they have potholes in them.) So back in September, I made it clear that if the State fails to come through on its commitment again this year, we will have to cut all or part of this additional investment in the long-term health of our streets.

It’s too soon to know how bad potholes will get this year, but we’re out looking for them now and fixing the worst ones as quickly as possible. Help us stay on top of them by reporting them to 311 and help us make sure that the Legislature keeps its commitment to long-lasting streets in Minneapolis.

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