As the ice and snowfall of winter thaw, the state’s road construction and repair season has already begun in Lilydale, Mendota and Mendota Heights. Officials in all three cities unanimously reported that a particularly hard winter has left some roads in bad shape, although each city confronts vastly different financial and logistical challenges in making the necessary repairs.
Road crews comprised of ten Mendota Heights employees are already surveying streets in an attempt to identify and quickly fix problem areas on pavement surfaces. “We’ve been out doing pothole patching the past couple of days,” said Tom Olund, public works superintendent for the city.
The city of Mendota Heights maintains more than 70 miles of public streets. Highways 110, Highway 55 and Dodd Road are maintained by the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT). Delaware Avenue and Lexington Avenue are maintained by Dakota County.
Olund said that road repair crews have already spent significant time patching potholes on Mendota Heights Road, Wagon Wheel Trail and Marie Ave., high traffic areas which typically see more wear and tear over the course of winter. Olund and John Mazzitello, city engineer for Mendota Heights, said that city streets were in no worse shape than usual despite the heavy snowfall and ice buildup over winter.
“There are spot problems we have to address each year, but road surface problems aren’t as prevalent here (as in a major metropolitan area),” said Mazzitello.
Spot-patching potholes with a pavement mix is just the first step in a multi-stage road repair plan under way in Mendota Heights. As part of the city’s five year Street Improvement Plan (SIP), published in Oct. 2010 and scheduled for completion in 2015, this spring and summer Mendota Heights will be conducting significant road reconstruction and rehabilitation projects in several city areas.
During summer 2011, street reconstruction work is scheduled to take place on Wagon Wheel Trail. The Knollwood neighborhood will see rehabilitation work in the form of a new pavement surface on many of its roads, including Knollwood Lane, Knollwood Court, Medora Road and Medora Court.
Mazzitello reported that, aside from the scheduled SIP repair work, the city has $220,000 in its street budget for 2011. That budget pays for plowing, pothole repair, and salt acquisition.
Olund reported that his road crews were currently using a less effective “cold” pavement mix to fill in potholes, though in the coming weeks they will be switching to a “hot” mix, delivered from the manufacturing plant at 200 degrees, which he reported was more effective at adhering to existing pavement surfaces. He anticipated no problems in repairing whatever potholes developed over winter.
With a far smaller population and less tax revenue to work with, the city of Mendota reported that, while some of its roads are in dire need of repair, the funds required for such work just aren’t there presently.
“We repair (in Mendota) as needed,” said Mendota Mayor Brian Mielke. “A lot of our property owners resolve street problems themselves. We’re used to not having money available for significant road repairs.”
Mielke said that there is currently no money allocated for road repairs in the Mendota city budget, even to fill in potholes that developed over winter. Danny Dahlberg, the road commissioner for Mendota, was unavailable for comment, though City Administrator Jennifer Bruestle said that, upon his return, the city would begin filling in potholes with a pavement mix. Though Dahlberg has been paid a nominal fee for his services in the past, Bruestle said he had elected not to take a salary this year. Bruestle said that Dahlberg’s voluntary service is typical of the small city.
“A lot of people in town volunteer their time to get things done, otherwise we’d have to raise taxes,” she said. Both former Mendota mayor Steve Golias and Mielke said they were against such a move, though acknowledged that certain roads in the city were getting to the point where residents’ remedies just weren’t going to cut it any longer.
“The road near my house is treacherous, like land mines have gone off,” Mielke said. “You’re zigzagging down the road, trying to dodge potholes.” Mielke was referring to a roughly three block stretch of D Street which is unpaved and currently showing severe signs of winter wear.
The mayor said that residents have been going out and filling in the potholes with gravel and dirt themselves, but that such solutions aren’t working as effectively as they have in the past. “The last two years is where those opportunities to fix it on our own are limited. The road is just getting to the point where that’s not working anymore.”
Former mayor Golias echoed Mielke’s grim assessment of budgetary matters pertaining to repair work needed for city roads.
“(Certain roads) need to be overlaid, but maybe we’ll just try to get by with patching again,” Golias said. “We’ve struggled with this for years. You defer maintenance because you’re trying to control your budget. One problem we have in Mendota is that we’ve never had any spending we can cut. We just have the basic services...Discretionary spending is non-existent.”
Lilydale confronts the fewest challenges of the three cities, as it is responsible for repairs to virtually no road surfaces within the city.
Highway 13 is repaired by MnDOT, while Dakota County is responsible for maintenance of Lilydale Road. With the exception of a small stretch of Victoria Road that city administrator Teish Stafne said the city had never needed to work on, Lilydale is not responsible for pothole repair or any other road maintenance within the city limits. Lilydale owns no road maintenance equipment and does not make room in its budget for road maintenance or repair work.