Street Repair Funding Scramble

By KBJR News 1

December 8, 2011 Updated Dec 8, 2011 at 11:53 AM CST

Duluth, MN (Northland's NewsCenter) --- Most agree that Duluth's streets are not in the best of shape. Last March the mayor announced an ambitious plan to spend $6 million dollars to fix 60 miles of roadway in a year.

Now that plan has collapsed and the city is scrambling to find a way to pay for a drastically scaled back street repair plan.

Last winter was tough on Duluth streets. Cracks widened overnight and potholes popped up throughout the city.

Thomas Kowalik was among many who suffered damage due to the city's rough roads. In just one night he blew out two tires driving over potholes in his West Duluth neighborhood.

"Primarily for safety reasons I think that the city should and needs to do something, whether it's filling them with dirt or getting a crew out. They need to be patched," said Kowalik.

The city heard people like Kowalik and in March Duluth Mayor Don Ness announced his enhanced maintenance program for street repair promising no cost to Duluth taxpayers.

"The Pothole Reduction Program for this year is set to address the damage caused by this previous winter, as well as to make proactive improvements to prevent potholes in the future," said Ness.

The plan was to spend $6 million a year in replacing blacktop, filling in cracks and replacing outdated and damaged piping beneath 60 miles of city roadways.

The money would come from shared revenue from the Fond du Luth casino.

But that plan went out the window when a Federal judge ruled that the Fond du Lac band no longer had to pay the city a share of the profits from the Duluth based Casino.

"Today there has been over $80 million given to the city of Duluth...there is some feeling that we are prepaid for whatever Duluth may feel its entitled to," said Karen Diver, Fond du Lac Tribal Chair.

The city disagreed with the ruling and plans to appeal but in the meantime community leaders are scrambling to find a way to keep the much needed street repair program going.

"So instead of spending $6 million a year, we're planning on spending approximately between $700,000-900,000 next year on our enhanced maintenance program," said Ness.

Mayor Ness said that means the city won't be able to do anywhere near the 60 miles of repair and will instead, be responding only to the absolutely necessary areas of road problems.

Mayor Ness is hoping this winter won't be as tough on city streets as it was last winter with its constant freeze and thaw cycles.

Reported by Barbara Reyelts