Hope for a hopeless world: Ayd Mill Road to get makeover

Nothing symbolizes St. Paul’s rotting infrastructure like a quick ride down Ayd Mill Road, the semi-connector that crosses the city from the industrial midway to Interstate 35E.

Of course, it’s impossible to take a quick trip on Ayd Mill Road,  what with the sinkholes and potholes that require off-road vehicles to navigate.

So the Pioneer Press’ news today gives hope to a hopeless world: Ayd Mill Road is going to be resurfaced.

The city didn’t want to; it had plans to do it two years from now, but the complaints from people with a clue overwhelmed city officials.

“The ongoing efforts to regularly patch and maintain the road are expensive and are no longer sufficient or sustainable. We cannot wait until 2021 to undertake this project,” Public Works director Kathy Lantry said in a written statement, according to the newspaper.

She could say that about just about any road in the city, whose legendary potholes are being patched before becoming next spring’s legendary potholes when the temporary fix washes away again.

The city will use the mill-and-overlay method in which what’s left of the asphalt will be ground off and replaced by 2 inches of new asphalt. As someone in the PiPress’ comment section points out, it’s a less-temporary fix as the original road was concrete and asphalt over concrete doesn’t have a long life. But replacing concrete with concrete is a bridge too far for cash-strapped cities.

It’s a temporary ray of hope that things will get better, even if it’s a mirage. St. Paul doesn’t have much more than a Band-Aid plan to take care of more than 850 miles of roads in the city, a few of which — like Ayd Mill Road — serve commuters, perhaps, more than city people these days. City folks aren’t in any hurry to help people from the suburbs.

Ayd Mill Road is a metaphor for the entire transportation policy of Minnesota. For decades, it’s been a road in search of someone with a sustainable vision. With officials and residents unable to agree on one, it collapses under the weight of its own existence.

Related: The Eternal Return of Ayd Mill Road: an Illustrated Timeline (Twin Cities Sidewalks)

  • Guest

    GEE billions on trains and the money runs out for roads…….who knew 🙂

    • Jerry

      More people using trains prolongs the life of roads

    • Much more money is spent on roads than trains. Plus it’s an apples to orange comparison where local streets are concerned.

    • BJ

      Gee, billions on billions spend on roads with 2-5 year life, vs 20-30 year life on trains – I wish roads had the return on them that trains do.

    • NathanT

      Ayd Mill road currently sees about 24,000 trips per day. The blue and green lines have an average weekday ridership of over 72,000.

    • I just love it when “Guest” shows up around here…

      • Guest is his username. He’s as entitled to be here as anyone else. Move on.

        • Really – the person intentionally selected the username “guest”? I assumed that was an automatic handle for someone who doesn’t select a user name. Anyway, I had no idea, I assumed it was one of those things where a troll butts in somewhere they normally don’t hang out. (Were that the case, I suppose he’s still as entitled to be here as anyone else…at the moderator’s discretion of course.)

          • Yeah. Guest posting isn’t allowed.

          • Bill LIndeke

            Maybe it’s Christopher Guest?

  • Rob

    Excellent post, Bob C. Your description of AMR as a //semi-connecter// gave me a good chuckle. Although it does meet up with the Practice Freeway, so I guess that’s something.

    But unless the planned repaving of AMR comes with a side of connectivity to I-94, my city is just throwing good money after bad.

    • singe_101

      They just need the concrete project from local government aid, or the inverse which is Eagan, Woodbury, Burnsville, Lakeville, etc. getting $0 while paying in. But I support it.

  • J Allen

    In contrast, Ramsey County has been catching up with the backlog of county road maintenance thanks to the passage of a $20 wheelage tax a few years back. Compared to the cost of fixing a blown tire or bent rim after you hit a pothole, it’s a pretty good deal. Also, one of the main reasons in favor of an increase in fuel taxes would be to share that with cities to fund repairs and reconstruction.

    • Gary Leatherman

      Considering Ayd Mill Road cost me $450 last year in two new front tires, I agree. We’d be better served by specific taxes like the wheelage or fuel tax that then transparently shows how much is budgeted and allocated to fixing the roads each year. This only going to become a bigger and bigger issue as our climate goes through increased swings from low temps to high and our asphalt roads deteriorate under the pressure.

  • Barton

    I am a big fan of the proposed re-design for Ayd Mill Road. One lane of traffic each way plus actual space for pedestrians and cyclists. Space for non-vehicle traffic is sorely needed in that part of the city. And such a change could make the road more usable by the residents and not those just looking to avoid higher traffic roads.

  • Jerry

    Ayd Mill is a ridiculous road that only real function is to help people in Eagan get to Minneapolis. In almost every other case there is a better road to take.

    • Gary Leatherman

      can’t speak for Eaganites but I’d probably take Hiawatha to Mpls if I lived in that suburb (perish the thought, people) Still Ayd Mill is useful for me as St Paul resident in the Como area to get to southwest part of the metro, though I too would like to see it redesigned to serve St Paul residents for both pedestrians and bikes per Bartons post. A 35 mph road with beautiful greenway and bike paths would be a nice addition to our city.

    • QuietBlue

      Eagan resident here — why would I even take AMR to Minneapolis to begin with? As you note, there are much better routes.

      • Jerry

        You’re probably right. It more serves someone trying to get to Snelling/midway area. Which makes it even more ridiculous. I feel that it is a vestige of last centuries freeway-mania, like the attempt to run a connector between 94 and 35w in Northeast MPLS.

    • Gary F

      As someone who lives in Highland, AMR is the best thing ever for Highland-Mac Grove! The amount of cars that got off at Randolph or West Seventh and went up Lexington or Hamline was just NUTS. So glad its getting fixed. Can’t wait until the day the make 35E more functional to take cars off AMR and semitrucks off off Montreal and Snelling Avenues.

      • Jack Ungerleider

        As someone who lives in the West 7th neighborhood, I use that road everyday and never get on an Interstate.

      • Wayne

        I’m in Merriam Park and it is my favorite road.

  • QuietBlue

    What would stop the city from just closing AMR for good? I’m guessing something is, but it seems like it would be the best long-term solution. Cities do close roads sometimes when the maintenance gets to be too much (Black Dog Road in Burnsville is one example, as it was being damaged by flooding almost yearly).

    Living in the south suburbs, I would miss the easy access to Snelling that AMR provides. But I’m also not paying for its upkeep, either, so I’d understand. And I’ve been avoiding it lately anyway due to the condition.

    • Bill LIndeke

      It would be the best solution, but decision makers have lacked the courage to do so at least since the 1990s.

      • John O.

        I remember hearing many years ago from one of the old-timers in St. Paul that AMR was originally supposed to connect to WB I-94, but something went awry and it only got as far as Selby.

        • J Allen

          You are correct. Originally AMD was to connect with I-94 but that was halted due to locals putting a stop on that.

    • singe_101

      Thus overwhelming Lexington, which they resurfaced last summer during the fair. So that will deteriorate faster.

    • J Allen

      AMR carries traffic to other local connectors, primarily St. Clair and Grand, that otherwise would be on Lexington. It does serve a purpose and closing it would cause traffic problems elsewhere. There are St. Paul residents in those neighborhoods that work in the southern suburbs who use AMR. FYI, here’s a link to a handy MN-DOT traffic count map that provides some context about AMRs use.

      https://dotapp9.dot.state.mn.us/tfa/Map

      • Bill LIndeke

        OK but who should pay for it? This money comes at the expense of paving other Saint Paul streets that badly need it. It’s a zero-sum game with city budgets.

        • J Allen

          AMD is a municipal state-aid road, so some funding could come from the state. But if it’s just been green-lighted by the city it might not have been formally requested yet. These things do take time to get approval and budgeted for.

          • Bill LIndeke

            Saint Paul gets about $11M in MSA money each year, and can spend it on any road in the city that it designates as MSA. But they only get that much annually. This money could be spent on streets downtown, or Summit Avenue, or streets in the West Side where I live, or dozens of other streets that desperately need repair.

          • J Allen

            You won’t get any argument from me that there are plenty of streets in disrepair, but the problem isn’t that AMD doesn’t also need it, as per all the complaints that St. Paul has gotten about it. No, the problem is the lack of funds. As I already mentioned, Ramsey County did something about that by instituting a $20 wheelage tax that brings in something like $8 million a year to devote to road maintenance.

          • I think that’s why county and state roads are generally in better shape than roads under the auspices of cities.

          • Bill LIndeke

            Getting rid of the city’s assessment on non-profits does not help at all. That was $30M annually.

          • J Allen

            Thank the MN Supreme Court for deciding that assessments on non-profits were actually taxes. St. Paul’s dilemma with respect to non-profits is unique in the state, IMO.

          • I see they’re tearing up Robert Street in downtown again. That street must hold the world record for most times jackhammered.

  • KTFoley

    Hallelujah!

    I had to move onto the shoulder there last fall, and the potholes & debris under the leaves punctured two tires. One deflated immediately, and the other a bit later on I-494 … right after the first tow truck pulled away.

    I learned far too much about what happens to the Toyota Prius’s big battery when the drive train connections aren’t quite where they’re expected to be. A car that slows itself down to 25-30 mph in freeway traffic while you’re hoping to make the right lane / next exit is downright terrifying.

    My AAA membership is on auto-renew.

  • J Allen

    On the subject of road construction, here’s a big deal happening this year. Fear no roundabouts, because you’re going to get three more of them soon.

    https://www.ramseycounty.us/residents/roads-transit/2019-construction-maintenance/i-694rice-street-interchange

  • Mike

    I read in the Star Trib recently where Minnesota spends less than average (among the 50 states) on transportation. That goes a long way toward explaining the wretched state of roads and infrastructure generally here.

    If our politics were rational, we would be spending significantly more than average due to the fact that cold weather is very hard on roads. We will always have to spend more than southern states on infrastructure if we want to have a functional system.

    • I think state and county roads are generally in good shape. BTW, I-94 from Sauk to beyond Alexandria right now is like driving on a cloud. To me, one of the problems is localities get almost nothing from the gas tax under the current funding arrangement. It’s left to property owners to fund half the cost in many communities.

      • Mike

        I live in Minneapolis, and I would not describe the general condition of streets and local roads as good. Granted this is peak pothole season, but many of the streets I drive on are bumpy and uneven year round.

        I can’t comment on the specific funding mechanisms, but our taxes in Hennepin County aren’t exactly low.

        • KTFoley

          I never thought I’d be particularly grateful for a road race, but the route for the Twin Cities Marathon always gets some attention in the last week of September.

          Even if the potholes are being filled with Oreo crumbs, they’re smoothed over a bit … at least for a little while. The craters in the East & West River Parkways are truly impressive right now.

      • J Allen

        Localities do get state aid to maintain local streets, but it’s restricted to major streets like Cleveland, Randolph, Lexington, etc. Strictly residential streets generally don’t qualify for state aid.

        • boB from WA

          Wouldn’t that be state designated roads? Like SR 5, SR 51, etc?

          • J Allen

            No, it’s not limited to State Highways. Local streets can be classified as “state aid” eligible and get state funding towards their maintenance.

          • Bill LIndeke

            It’s a zero-sum game with MSA money. That sum is $11M a year. This would be 1/3 of our annual MSA budget that could be spent on streets for people living in the city.

        • Bill LIndeke

          This is state aid money, but the city only gets a fixed amount of that. So St. Paul is choosing to spend this money on Ayd Mill instead of other city-owned streets.

          • J Allen

            There’s a hierarchy of streets to be sure. Strictly local streets that carry only local traffic are funded by their municipalities. AMD isn’t strictly a local street, but a major connector. As I mentioned in another post, it’s used by local residents of St. Paul to get to jobs in the southern suburbs via I-35E, so there’s some wider use for it than say Milton Street gets.

      • Jerry

        A lot of city roads are county roads. Cedar, for example, is a county road even where it runs through Minneapolis.

  • Bill LIndeke

    Thanks for the plug, Bob. This is a super frustrating issue for me. The city loves to talk about equity and climate action, but can’t make important policy changes on the ground. This $3.5M in city street paving dollars could be going to help fix local streets that desperately need it. https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/e1a53885c0771e2ce6f1dbf6168ef9dab18413f9ea194b6162533f3e328d5c0a.jpg

    • Gary F

      That’s a cool map. I’ll have to find the source.

      Funny how Randolph between Cleveland and Snelling is shown in good condition but every spring it is just terrible for potholes.

    • KTFoley

      I can see that’s a preliminary draft, but can you clarify — is a pavement condition index of 81-100 (blue lines) considered best, or worst?

      • Bill LIndeke

        100 is great. 50 is not great. 20 is bad. Less than that is New Orleans-level, or what a lot of streets in my neighborhood are like…

        • KTFoley

          If that’s the case, I am surprised to see the prevalence of blue on the East Side.

          • Jerry

            It’s the East Side. They probably never bothered to check.

            Though honestly, I think several of the worst roads were rebuilt in the last few years.

          • Earl Street is the worst.

          • Jerry

            But the Dairy Queen near 3rd has the best Dilly Bars

          • Bill LIndeke

            Yes me too.

  • MrE85

    I have worked in St. Paul for nearly 30 years, and I have only been on that road once.

    • John O.

      Your car’s suspension thanks you for that.

  • It probably is also worth saying that suburban folks aren’t in any hurry to help people from the city, either.

    • Bill LIndeke

      this is true

  • Bill Lindeke, I’m normally about 100% in agreement with your take on transportation, but as a guy who lives in Northeast Minneapolis with friends/reasons to travel to the West 7th Neighborhood, and also the Mendota area from time to time, I really wouldn’t want AMR closed. Bring it down to one lane each way, 35mph or something, bike lanes, whatever, but I would hope St Paul doesn’t close it! I’ve seen from comments that I’m not the only one who uses it to get around the Cities within the Cities (if you follow). It’s not just a commuter thing. I wish there was a way to make it a county or state road so it could get the funding it needs, and yes I understand that streets downtown and the West Side are funded by city funding so it’s zero-sum, but AMR isn’t just a useless commuter semi-connector. Maybe studies of where people are coming from/going when they use it would contradict me, but as of now my experience is that it’s a useful inner-core route.

    • Bill LIndeke

      ok but at what cost?

  • Andrew

    https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/eac1196879a0d229c9182f2e3fbd73152ea5a30a0492ac85e5b70db8c0fc0ae5.jpg

    From my neighborhood FB page where AMR is a usual punching bag for citizens fed up with the plethora of potholes on our streets.

    All jokes aside, I’m glad it’s getting a makeover as I do use it semi-regularly, and would like to not have to weave through a minefield every time I traverse it.

  • Wayne

    Ayd Mill Road is my favorite road. My kids school is at
    the other end of it, and they’re all in extra-curricular activities. I’d
    estimate that it’s saved us days of travel time.