The Free Press, Mankato, MN


July 17, 2014

Our View: Fix federal highway funding

Why it matters: The congressional deadlock over funding highways will impact Minnesota road projects

Now it looks like Washington gridlock will be creating Minnesota roadblocks.

A stalemate between congressional Republicans and Democrats threatens to drain the federal Highway Trust Fund. Reserves will be depleted by Aug. 29.

That could impact funding for some of the 300 to 400 Minnesota highway projects done every year. Of the $3 billion in road work, about 30 percent comes from the federal government.

Already, Minnesota Transportation Commissioner Charles Zelle is setting up a contingency plan for dealing with the anticipated shortage, according to a report by the Associated Press. The state may have to trim its list of priorities by doing only roads that need fixing versus funding expansions.

This comes at a time when funding is already far behind compared to the need. And this kind of funding shortage also hurts taxpayers because roads cost more to fix the worse they get.

Some in Congress are looking for temporary solutions to the highway fund depletion. The Republicans in the House were considering “borrowing” from other transportation funds that have a surplus. But that would only be a temporary solution and only push the problem further down the road. Then we need money to shore up the fund we borrow from.

Some Democrats have been on record willing to consider increasing the federal gasoline tax which hasn’t been increased or adjusted for inflation in 21 years. Reasonable people see the need to do this, including Minnesota Congressman Rick Nolan. “We simply have to fund our transportation infrastructure.” We wish others political leaders would see it that simply and logically.

The House did pass a temporary measure of $11 billion to hold the fund over for 10 months, but now they must act by late August to keep the fund from going bankrupt.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar says Congress has to get creative for long-term funding and maybe the traditional gas tax isn’t the way to go. But then what is the best solution? We can waste a lot of time and money thinking about that.

The funding needs are urgent. Congress must come up with a temporary solution and a long-term solution. Our roads are not going away.

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