Categorized | IN OUR COMMUNITY

Sticker shock of street repair takes residents by surprise

Posted on 09 June 2015 by Calvin


Street and bridge work throughout St. Paul isn’t merely a hassle for anyone trying to get around.

The increased costs of construction are causing sticker shock for city, county and state officials. Property owners who must pay assessments are also feeling the pain. That includes residents of the Como-Chatsworth neighborhood, who at one point feared that their assessments would almost double.

In the fall of 2014, the city told property owners that they would be paying $80 to $95 per foot. Word of a high increase to $140.50 per foot prompted many to attend a May 6 public hearing to object. That has now been reduced to $111 per foot, but it still causes hardship. Property owners on arterial streets will pay about $120.

St. Paul property owners pay about 20 to 25 percent of street reconstruction costs. Last year residents paid about $77 per front foot in residential street paving projects.

Jim Prayfrock’s family has owned its Oxford St. home for many years. “As a single dad, with one kid going out of college, one kid going in. . . These assessments are a hardship.”

Prayfrock said his block is in poor condition, and the street needs rebuilding. His family has paid assessments for street and curb maintenance, even though the curbs fell apart in the late 1960s. “The work is needed, but at what cost?”

Others urged the city to hold out for lower construction bids and subsequent assessments. Chatsworth St. resident Corey Plath joked that he came to the hearing wanting to talk about a $140.50 per foot assessment. On finding out about the  lower assessment estimate, he quipped, “Well that just took all my venom out of me, way to go.” Plath still urged the council to wait on his street.

Others said the work needs to go forward because property owners are already living with torn-up boulevards and sidewalks damaged due to water and sanitary sewer line replacement. Church St. resident Randy Croce said he and several neighbors already incurred a few thousand dollars in costs each to get utility work done. “Otherwise we’ll individually have to pay out more,” he said.

The actual fate of projects will not be determined until bids come in over the next few months. Bids will determine if assessments go up or down, or, even if some projects go forward at all. But for Como-Chatsworth residents, some boulevards have been already torn up for water line replacement and other work.

“Costs are coming in much higher than they ever have before,” said St. Paul City Council President Russ Stark. Not only have materials costs risen, a robust economy means that contractors have their pick of jobs. The City Council is considering holding a policy session to discuss what can be done to mitigate costs to property owners.

The cost of road construction has increased faster than the rate of inflation. Materials including oil, concrete and gravel have risen, along with equipment process. One estimate given to state lawmakers was that the costs of construction and materials have gone up by more than 70 percent in the last decade.

Kathy Lantry, director of the St. Paul Department of Public Works, said that higher costs mean fewer projects can be completed in a construction season. The city rebuilt many streets during a sewer separation and street reconstruction program that ended in 1996, and then began rebuilding the remaining 200 miles of older residential streets. That program was supposed to be done in about 2006-2007. It is now scheduled to end sometime after 2021. The city used to rebuild streets in as many as four neighborhoods per year. In 2015, only one neighborhood, Como-Chatsworth, can be done.

Final assessments won’t be announced until the projects are near completion. The city will hold a final assessment public hearing in the fall.

“Over the next few months bids will be opened, and we’ll have more accurate costs,” said Bruce Engelbrekt, St. Paul Real Estate Office. “We’re hoping for favorable costs but if the costs are much higher, we’ll have to come back and see if we can move forward.”

The fact that so many projects are moving ahead means contractors have their pick of jobs. A good economy is one factor. For Ramsey County, Hennepin County, and other Minnesota counties, adding a wheelage tax a few years ago has provided more resources for roads.
In some cases, projects get few if any bids. That includes Minnesota Department of transportation’s current Snelling Ave. and Highway 5 Bridge projects. “And in St. Paul, for the second year in a row, the Maryland Ave. Bridge project got no bids,” Lantry said.

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