To grasp the full wretchedness of the average St. Paul street, simply drive north on Cleveland Avenue from Mississippi River Boulevard.
You'll see new handicapped accessible curbs to the right. But the street itself is a case study of broken and deteriorating concrete, patched with asphalt of assorted vintage, a look that feels like an impressionist painting from the children at nearby St. Mary Ethiopian Orthodox.
A mobile police sign will flash your speed, but it seems to be misplaced. This stretch of Cleveland is a multi-block speed bump in its own right.
It's a common state of the St. Paul street, with patchwork repairs done on the cheap, rarely addressing the despair of the whole. The problem, as you may have guessed, is that the city doesn't have the money harbored in the suburbs, much less its more glamorous sister across the river. The bigger commercial entities prefer to remit their taxes in these same places, as City Pages detailed last month. And since St. Paul refuses to take the customary route of poorer towns by skimping on parks, schools, and the like, it's spent years underfunding street maintenance.
Not that you didn't notice.
This week, the Public Works Department unveiled its annual report on street conditions. Officially, only 12 of the city's 869 miles of roads are failing. That's no doubt a charitable take. What wasn't charitable was its assessment of the future, in which St. Paul's streets begin to fail en masse.
If the city keeps street spending at its current rate – $26 million a year – more than half its roads will be undrivable in 20 years. In fact, it would need to double its spending just to show any sign of improvement.
The lifespan of a street is but 60 years before it requires full reconstruction. St. Paul is presently on a path to rebuild its biggest arteries every 124 years. For residential roads, it's on a 289-year pace.
But even with 27,000 new residents since 2010, St. Paul already struggles with funding its schools, its community centers, its parks, and its police. Try finding a public trash can in any neighborhood in the city.
So the city council must figure out a way to meet all these needs while boosting money for street care. In a town where potholes already take on mythical dangers, all signs point to only meaner encounters with your car or bike.