Politics and snow removal

662.jpgIn Minnesota, it often doesn’t really matter what else a politician does, as long as the roads get plowed in the winter and the potholes get filled in the spring, which is a curious thing since none of them drives a plow or wields a shovel.

The 36 hours since Sunday’s storm have not been kind to the people who have to remove the snow. The warm weather at the start of the storm made the snow wet, the people who just had to be out driving out in it on a Sunday packed it down, and the cold backside of the storm turned it into glaciers.

It happens.

Here’s a typical Tweet from the morning commute today:

To all of you people who love winter so much, do you not have to ever drive in rush hour traffic?!?!?! #thisbites

And this was a recent update…

Drivers mostly don’t care why roads are in bad shape. They just want them cleared. Period.

What happens when they’re not? It’s a good time to hit the Wayback Machine:

“Now I’ve lived there for 46 years and this was the worst that I have ever seen. The only time that the road has been worse is right during a storm and it seemed like that in those days, as soon as the storm has let up, they were out there.”

That was a DFL senator in March 2004, when a committee of the Minnesota Senate voted to oust then transportation commissioner Carol Molnau from her job, taking advantage of the reaction over snow removal to retaliate against a Republican administration over budget cuts.

The controversy even forced MnDOT to commission a report proving that the snow removal was better than DFLers said it was.

For example, on heavily traveled roads like Interstates 494 and 694, MnDOT’s goal is bare lane one to three hours after the snow stops falling. The average snow-removal time on those roads last winter was a little more than two hours. But the average times were longer than a year ago, when the state had less snow, and also longer than two years ago, when snowfall was about the same as this year. And while MnDOT met its goals statewide, it failed to meet its plowing goals in the Brainerd area during the month of January, and in the Rochester area in February.

But the DFL didn’t buy it. “Minnesota drivers know that they spent longer in traffic, that there were more accidents, and that they were put in jeopardy, all because of the Pawlenty/Molnau administration budget cuts,” then legislator Matt Entenza declared on the steps of the Capitol.

It took almost four years for the full Senate to finish the job of firing Molnau. By the time she was removed in 2008, the bridge had collapsed in Minneapolis and nobody was complaining about snow removal.

So far, the condition of roads hasn’t surfaced as a political grenade in 2012, although it’s obviously early yet. A DFLer sits in the governor’s office, of course, and the DFL has regained control of the Legislature in the upcoming session.

And the commissioner of transportation? Tom Sorel got out just in time. He left for a new gig with AAA 11 days ago.

Somewhere around Chaska, Carol Molnau must be smiling.

(Photo: MnDOT. Highway 10 East of 7th at 9:47 a.m.)