St. Paul Mayor Carter: Brace for ‘one of the roughest pothole seasons that we’ve ever had’

St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter told business leaders to brace for rough driving this spring — maybe even the worst road travel in recent memory.

“Our potholes are talking to us right now,” said Carter, addressing members of the Greater St. Paul Building Owners and Managers Association in a conference room of the downtown DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel on Monday afternoon. “We’ve had one of the roughest winters ever. We’re expecting probably one of the roughest pothole seasons that we’ve ever had.”

It’s not just the capital city that is suffering from visibly pockmarked roads — potholes nearly as large as manhole covers have emerged across Minneapolis and the metro suburbs, as well — but the mayor’s recommended fix is one that will take buy-in from state lawmakers, a potential uphill climb considering competing priorities.

The mayor’s administration has said that tripling St. Paul’s local sales tax to 1.5% could raise nearly $1 billion over 20 years, funding the reconstruction of 25 well-traveled streets, as well as Parks and Rec offerings such as an East Side community center and a sprawling new athletics complex.

Proposal to boost sales tax

Carter’s proposal — endorsed by six of seven members of the city council — would boost St. Paul’s total sales tax — currently 7.875% — to tie with Duluth for the priciest in the state. It comes at a time when metro lawmakers are considering proposals for a higher regional sales tax in the seven-county metro area to help pay for transit.

If it earns muster with the Legislature, the mayor’s sales tax proposal would need approval from city voters.

Carter told the BOMA audience that rather than exclusively leave road repair to property owners through street assessments, a sales tax would capture revenue from tourists, package deliverers and others who put wear and tear on St. Paul’s roads. The money would be targeted to 25 segments of specific collector or arterial roads.

Carter said that the city’s pavement condition index, on a rating between 1 and 100, currently averages a 48, which ranks as “fair to poor.” Without a major cash infusion, that number will drop to 20, or “very poor,” within 20 years. With major investment, it’s projected to rise to 70, the mayor said.

‘Street improvement dollars have to come from somewhere’

Commercial real estate owner Pat Wolfe said, following the address, she’d like to hear more from city budget planners about how the sales tax money would be tracked and segregated from general spending to ensure it’s spent as promised.

“Let’s make sure it doesn’t just go into the general fund,” Wolfe said.

Sheldon Vaz, a parking manager with a downtown ramp company, said he initially leaned toward opposing the sales tax proposal, but hearing the mayor say funds would be dedicated to specific arterial and collector streets had him reconsidering on Monday.

“Street improvement dollars have to come from somewhere,” Vaz said.

Carter’s wide-ranging address, and the question-and-answer session that followed, also touched on skyway safety and public transit, rent control and the city’s response to homelessness, among other topics.

Video selections from his address are online at tinyurl.com/CarterBOMA0323.

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