ST. PAUL, Minn. (WCCO/AP) — Many of Minnesota’s roads and bridges are getting so old, that Governor Dayton believes it’s time for a major overhaul.
Tuesday morning the governor and the transportation commissioner released a list of more than 600 road and bridge improvements across the state that would be completed if the legislature approves the funding. The plan relies on new gas taxes and increased vehicle registration fees.
More than 2,000 miles of state roads and 330 bridges would be repaired, replaced or expanded. The infrastructure has deteriorated over time.
The governor said about half of the state’s roads are more than 50 years old and many of our bridges are more than 40 years old.
Interstate 94, between downtown Minneapolis and downtown St. Paul, is of high concern: Work needs to be done on the bridges that go across it as well as the pavement.
Dayton’s detailed roster was designed to highlight what transportation planners say is a $6 billion need over the next decade and to put pressure on lawmakers by showing their constituents what the new money would buy. It ran counter to tradition by Minnesota politicians to avoid inserting specific projects in the legislative funding debate under the principle that Department of Transportation experts are best left to make professional judgments.
“If they don’t have the money, they can’t do the projects,” Dayton said. “I don’t know what’s political about that. That’s just the real world.”
His transportation commissioner, Charlie Zelle, said every project has had at least some level of professional analysis and many have undergone engineering reviews already. He said the extra money would give his agency the ability to rehabilitate roads for the long run rather than patching them short term.
Still, House Transportation Finance Committee Chairman Tim Kelly, R-Red Wing, said it struck him as politically driven earmarking. Kelly said it had a feel of “going out to specific areas and holding them hostage” by linking specific projects to passage of a big funding package.
So far, Republicans have outlined a $750 million plan that diverts some dollars from a projected $1 billion budget surplus and reshuffles other money the transportation department now gets. Kelly said a more-comprehensive proposal is in the works.
Majority Senate Democrats have proposed a transportation plan closer in size to Dayton’s package.
The list distributed by Dayton’s administration includes projects as small as a half-mile rework of Highway 32 in Greenbush in far northwestern Minnesota to a 30-mile stretch of Highway 2 between Cass and Itasca counties. There also are short but expensive upgrades in the Twin Cities, such as adding more lanes and reconstructing bridges along Interstate 94 between Minneapolis and St. Paul.
But all of it is heavily contingent on the size of a spending package that lawmakers approve. Dayton’s bid for a new wholesale tax on gasoline — starting at 16 cents per gallon and rising annually based on the average cost of gas — has received a lukewarm reception, particularly from Republicans. Dayton’s plan separately contains a half-percent increase in the seven-county metropolitan area for mass transit upgrades.
Projects on the list are based on recommendations by MnDOT staff, giving priority to fixing roads that are in very poor condition and preventing problems before they happen. As our population increases, the volume of traffic over our roads increases, leading to more wear and tear.
Dayton was headed to Mankato on Wednesday to continue pressing his case.