Q & A with Public Works Director Kathy Lantry

In December 2018, Julie Sell, Urban Transportation Fellow, sat down with Public Works Director Kathy Lantry to discuss her role leading Saint Paul Public Works and looking forward to new transportation options for the City of Saint Paul. 

Q: What should people know about this job?  

A: It is a really interesting job. It’s fascinating. I always said in my old job I learned something new every day. In this job, I learn something new every 15 minutes. That has not stopped, even though I’ve been in the role now for almost four years. It is ever changing, on all sorts of things. Not just because rules and regulations change, how we do things changes, why we do things changes. It’s fascinating. 

Q: What’s the best part of the job? 

A: I think it is that you can really point to something that you’ve done, a lot of things that are physical improvements to infrastructure.  

Q: What should people know about your plans for 2019 in public works? 

A: 2019 is going to be a huge year for Public Works. Part of that is because the Saint Paul City Council passed the 2019 budget on December 12. There are significant resources that have been allocated to public works in the mayor’s proposed 2019 budget. One of the big things is he tripled our sidewalk budget, which is great, except that I also have to have inspectors who can inspect all that work. So we’re going to have a giant contract but there are all sorts of operational needs that go along with that. It’s not just writing on a contract and getting bids on it, it’s also having the human being to go and check that work …. 

Our mill and overlay program was doubled for our neighborhoods, and a new program was instituted, which is our downtown mill and overlay. Over the next three years we hope to mill and overlay every street in downtown St. Paul. We’re going to start in Lowertown next year, and we’re going to add pedestrian improvements as we do that work. That’s both in the neighborhoods and downtown. We got more money to do the work, not necessarily the bodies that go along with it. There’s a lot of work.  

We’re also doing a downtown traffic study so we can implement the next two legs of the bike plan. That will be a big study about what’s a preferred route, and what are the trade-offs, depending upon the route that’s recommended. 

We also going to do pedestrian improvements with all our mill and overlays. Which means that all of our pedestrian safety plan, which is just wrapping up, we will start implementing it as we do our street sections. So if we’re going to invest the money in the asphalt, we’re also invested in the pedestrian safety experience. 

Q: What have I not asked about that you would like to share? 

A: The future of public works is something that I’m really excited about. Because I think there’s going to be some rapid change that we want to make sure we’re ready for. One of the reasons we have a transportation fellow is because we want to be prepared for the next iteration of how people use our right of way. That’s means autonomous vehicles, or as we saw this past summer, scooters or bike share, or whatever the next round of car-sharing looks like. 

Ten years from now, will people be getting around exactly the way they do today? I think the answer to that is absolutely not. So how do we prepare as a city so that we complement those new technologies rather than impede them?