THE ISSUES: What is the plan to fix Duluth’s roads?
QUESTION #2: STREETS AND ROADS
Our roads have been an ongoing issue for years. We see emails to City Council, asking when the potholes will get fixed & sometimes sending a bill to the City for vehicle repairs. Outline your plan to fix our roads and tell us what you think needs to be done.
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Roger Reinert’s Response
“So I have to laugh a little. Our local printer, who did some of our campaign materials, dropped off a box of brochures, and on it was a bill for almost $10,000. And he had written this as the cost of bad streets. Right. So like many, I don’t recall our streets ever being as bad as they are right now. And I’ve served before. Our streets have always been an issue, but they are especially problematic right now. And this season, it was really made worse by last winter and our heavy snowfall.
But underneath that literally is our inability to do preventative maintenance. It’s been almost three seasons since we’ve done crack repair. And even this year, as we hear about what we’ve done all these potholes, we’ve not done the entire city. And frankly, the pothole work we did at the start of the season is now undone as we move into winter. So when we plow that asphalt comes up and it ends up in your yard and in mine.
So what can we do? Again, practical, tangible steps that the next mayor and administration can do.
Number one, we have to look at our entire infrastructure system. You know, we’re a city built for over 100,000 people. We’re at about 87,000 now. Are there connectors? Are there dead ends? Are there bits of street here and there that no longer serve a purpose? And they did one time. Every bit of those that we can take out and shrink our existing infrastructure means more resources for the infrastructure that we have remaining.
Two, I want an inventory of every street mile. So you and I, as residents know well, I think my street’s terrible, but actually it’s yellow or maybe it’s even green because there are reds elsewhere in the community.
Number three, we have to take a look at the model that Saint Louis County has brought forward. You know, they also have a half-cent tax dedicated to street repair. And I just invite people to go to 57th Avenue West in West Duluth and look where a city street meets a county road. That’s a stop sign with Cody. And it is night and day.
I sat with the city engineer for 2 hours and talked about how they do so many miles well, and we do 460 not so well. And he said we bonded against that half-cent sales tax. We built up a pool of, I think almost $70 million, spent it in three years to build new streets. They now primarily maintain instead of build. At 14, 15, 17, 20 miles a year, it will take us three decades to catch up.”
Emily Larson’s Response
“Well, I love this question because it’s important how people move around the city, how it feels to do that matters in people’s daily lives. And so I am proud that under my leadership we have increased street repairs 850%.
So when I took office, we were doing two miles of road a year. This year we did 17. Next year I’m proposing 20. In the next three years we’re going to do 50 miles. And so that’s substantial. This is the very first year in decades that we have gotten every primary and secondary road patched in the summer. That is the dedication of this community. And I’m proud of us. I’m proud of us for passing that referendum, which I led overwhelmingly passed with voter support.
So, what we need to do, keep going as we as we move forward is to align that with utilities, which is what we’re doing. People don’t want you to come back twice. They want you to just do the work once. So we work closely with many out in the county to align projects.
We’re incorporating lead lines, and this is really important because when we’re talking about infrastructure in people’s daily lives, we believe at the city of Duluth that up to 30% of households have a private led service line that is significant. And on this issue, my opponent is absolutely silent. Up to 30% of our households may have lead impacting their health and development. And we’re not hearing anything.
Conversely, my plan is actually leading the state and being replicated all over the state. So next year we will get about 800 homes done. This year we did a pilot project that got 100 homes done. It’s imperative that we are just absolutely dedicated to addressing infrastructure.
And then lastly, as we continue to kind of gain progress on this plan, every year, we’re getting more miles done. And there’s no question, no question. I would love to do more. We have to balance how we pay for that. My opponent will talk about bonding. That is a risk. And the reason why is that that is actually what got us into this hole to begin with. Additionally, the last time he was in a position of local government, he cut the streets and snowplow crew by 30%. By 30%. So the idea and notion that he is able to come up with a magical solution based on previous decision making, it doesn’t add up.
I think the work that I have led in this area speaks for itself. It understands the need. It prioritizes neighborhoods, and we’re seeing real progress.”
Wednesday night on WDIO News at Six, we ask about taxes. Each candidate outlines their thoughts on the biggest projects our tax dollars should be allocated to.