In 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.
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...
Avoid Mississippi River Blvd in St. Paul. The city has not salted/sanded and the 2-wheel drives are getting stuck on every hill.— Mpls/St Paul Traffic (@MSP_Traffic) December 11, 2012
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.)
I like that you have a long memory. So many people don't.
the roads are pretty rough.
But I think every year people have a bit of amnesia about what winter is actually like.
We remember the bright sunny days in Jan. Feb. that melt the roads clear so we don't have so much ice pack on them... They don't remember the end of December when we barely get enough direct sun light to see how much snow we have gotten.
Personally I don't think MN has ever really excelled in the area of plowing roads. But I came from Chicago where plows when down the tollways with sparks flying up behind them because the plow was on the ground, not the MN way of keeping the blade a few inches off the ground to avoid ripping up the road.
I was pretty impressed with how many plows I saw on Sunday. And very confused as how the roads I take on my commute got WORSE from Monday to Tuesday with no additional snow falling. I don't know if that was an issue with the plows, the chemicals, people clearing their driveways into the streets, or a temperature change over night. What ever it was, it's an odd occurance that I recall happening after every major storm where the roads are cleared after the snow stops, then they get worse the next day, and then start improving again.
I'm pretty amazed how fast and how well the Saint Paul city streets were cleared. They did the best they could -- much better than in recent years -- but packed ice is packed ice. That ice won't clear until it's warm enough for the chemicals to work -- about 20 degrees, correct?
I've lived in snowy areas all my life, and I think I've got pretty realistic expectations for what can be done with a major snowfall.
My particular anger is reserved today for the St Paul Public Schools. If the roads are so icy that buses are running 30-90 minutes late, getting stuck so badly they need police assistance, and sliding through intersections, maybe that's a good sign the schools should rethink their closing policy. At the very least, the district should send out a notice to parents advising them that conditions are so bad, so kids and parents aren't waiting out in the cold for an hour when the bus hasn't even made it to the first stop on the route yet.
I'm not trying to start any MPLS v. St. Paul beef here on the venerable NewsCut blog, but I have to say that (anecdotally, anyway) I have noticed a marked difference between the status of the streets in the fair cities, with Minneapolis being quite noticeably more drivable throughout the winter. I lived in Minneapolis from 2003-2009. When I moved to St. Paul I was floored at the difference. I am curious about the differences in the two cities' budgets that lead to this disparity.
Two people died on the roadways because of this storm. My overall commute hasn't been horrible, but I have a three-mile stretch down an old-school two lane highway that is ridiculous. Intermittent washboard-like bumps of ice randomly spot your lane while the vehicle coming head-on at you is dealing with the same thing. The last two mornings, I've seen 5 cars in the ditch on this stretch (withouth a collision), and two additional two-car accidents. This is in Eagan. The head of MNDOT needs to go and ALL of our politicians need to hear a clear message that this is NOT OK. Keep the roads SAFE--FIRST. Then, IF there's money left for big corporations or perpetual system-working welfare families, then throw them a bone. Those who go to work every day shouldn't have to fear for their lives because the state is too cheap (or too misguided) to spend WHATEVER is needed to prevent this B.S.!!!
Also curious about the disparity between the two cities. It is noticeable. And by the way it took me two hours to drive from downtown st paul to downtown mpls yesterday between 4:15 and 6:15. Normally I avoid rush hour but had no choice. The first hour I was still in downtown St. Paul...granted gridlock partially contributed by the construction. But it was ridiculous. And not plowed.
I have to agree that there is a marked difference between the two cities. I live in Longfellow just two blocks west of the river in and I often have to be in St. Paul, particularly the Merriam Park, Mac-Groveland, and Highland Park neighbourhoods. The busy streets on the Mpls side (i.e. 46th, etc.) are fine, but the busy streets in St. Paul (e.g. Cretin, Cleveland, Fairview, Randolph, Ford Parkway) are a mess. I was driving 15 mph on Fairview this morning and tried braking, but couldn't. I am really glad I didn't have an accident!
Well I think the governor just stepped in it and probably extended the story another day.
On the difference between the two cities. Last night I left at 4pm for downtown St. Paul. I took Lake all the way to the river and then Marshall all the way to Lexington. The right lane of EB Lake was rough, but passable. The left EB lane was fine. Crossing the river was another story. Marshall was a complete disaster. At one point I joked that it felt like being a product tester at Sex World.