Minneapolis budget to refocus on roads and bridges

Rybak responds
Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak, along with Gov. Pawlenty, spoke about the I-35W bridge collapse shortly after it occurred on the evening of Aug. 1.
MPR file photo

Rybak began his address by describing the people who are known to have died or are still missing in the rubble of the I-35W bridge collapse.

Rybak also hailed the work of rescue workers and ordinary citizens who risked their lives to save people they didn't know.

"All these separate lives, intersecting at one tragic moment in one tragic place," said Rybak. "And now forever, those lives are going to be tied together. It's during times like these that we realize that we're really not all that alone."

Rybak said the bridge collapse highlighted the strengths and weaknesses of how the city has handled its finances during his term as mayor. Since Sept. 11, 2001, the city has invested more than $50 million in emergency preparedness. And Rybak says that helped make the response to the bridge disaster go as well as it did.

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"We have underinvested in resurfacing our roads, and we have underinvested in repairing our sidewalks."

"When you invest in quality government, you get quality results," he said.

Rybak said the I-35W bridge collapse is an example of what can happen when governments don't invest in infrastructure. He acknowledged that Minneapolis, like the state, has also under-invested in its roads and bridges.

Rybak blamed the lack of investment on the loss of tens of millions of dollars in state aid over the last several years. He said that forced the city to focus its reduced resources on public safety -- at the expense of other city departments.

"No area has suffered more than our public works, and the critical task of restoring and maintaining our infrastructure. We have underinvested in resurfacing our roads, and we have underinvested in repairing our sidewalks," Rybak said. "The startling collapse of the 35W bridge certainly requires us to take an even stronger look at the condition of our own bridges."

City officials say over the years, the Public Works Department has been forced to do more temporary repairs, such as filling potholes rather than replacing surfaces.

Councilmember Paul Ostrow, who chairs the Ways and Means budget committee, said changing that pattern will take an increase in the public works capital budget.

"If you talk to many of the experts in terms of roads, they'll tell you that long term, it is more cost effective and fiscally responsible to reconstruct a road once they get past a certain point in time," said Ostrow. "You still need those capital dollars to do that."

The city will benefit from a $133 million grant from the federal government to help pay for congestion relief measures. Rybak said the money will help reroute buses downtown, and will fund a bus rapid transit route that will run between Lakeville and downtown along I-35.

The city will also likely be reimbursed by the federal government for an estimated $10 million worth of post-bridge collapse expenses.

But Rybak is hoping that Gov. Pawlenty will change his mind about the 2007 tax bill he vetoed in the legislative session. Rybak says the veto cost the city $14 million in state aid that would have been applied to the 2008 budget. That could happen during a special legislative session, which is expected to take place sometime after Labor Day.

After that, Rybak will offer his budget proposal to the city.