The Free Press, Mankato, MN


March 16, 2014

Our View: Road funding should be 'needs' first

Why it matters: We won't be able to tackle funding for roads and bridges if we lump all the wishlists of every special interest group into the 'priority' list

As winter clears and road conditions become even more apparent, we have yet another study to tell us the obvious — the state needs help with its transportation issues.

The latest such “stick in the eye” comes from global traffic-tracker INRIX which ranks the Twin Cities as one of the worst traffic cities in the U.S.

According to the Star Tribune report, the survey found that traffic levels in Minneapolis-St. Paul were up 17 percent last year compared to the year before and that commuters spent 14 percent more time on the roads than in 2012.

Jim Bak, who wrote the INRIX report, told the newspaper “We are seeing more freight traffic, and that is what drives increases in congestion.”

But others see this merely as the price of living in the big city. David Levinson, a civil engineering professor at the University of Minnesota, said “The fact that (the Twin Cities is) ranked 16th in congestion seems about right,” And, he adds, This study, though, is just part of the steady drumbeat of warnings that transportation funding must be a priority for the state.

This area has long argued for the state to invest in a system that improves the efficiency and safety of moving goods and people. We are so behind on such an investment the Minnesota Department of Transportation estimates $50 billion is needed over the next 20 years. But we’ve been faced with both rising costs and declining revenue and MnDOT will receive only $18 billion during this period to makeover roads, not prepare for the future.

One stopgap measure recently approved was the Corridors of Commerce program in 2013 providing $300 million in highway bonds. Of that, $73 million was granted for three Highway 14 projects. That’s a start. But as we’ve pointed out repeatedly, this region is exploding — leading the state in GDP growth. And now we face construction of the Wal-Mart and FedEx distribution centers adding to more commercial vehicles on Highway 14.

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