The Free Press, Mankato, MN

January 15, 2014

Transport needs remain urgent

Why it matters: Transportation and infrastructure maintenance will cost taxpayers more if we continue to wait

The Mankato Free Press

---- — When it comes to transportation and infrastructure, it seems legislators of every stripe can agree on a number of core facts: transportation is key to economic development, it is one of the very basic functions of government, and Minnesota is very behind competitively in transportation.

We hope this leads to a long-overdue realization among Democrats and Republicans that more funding is needed and that funding will pay off many times in our economic development and job creation efforts. In fact, if we don’t increase the funding, we will have to spend much more down the road.

Road repair costs go up by millions of dollars per mile every year we wait to maintain roads that don’t meet standards of scientifically arrived at maintenance and condition criteria.

A recent overview of state transportation needs and available funding shows in the next 20 years the basic needs of Minnesota transportation will be $30 billion and during that same time we will take in about $18 billion. But studies also show it will save us at least $31 billion in reduced congestion and commuter waiting times.

In its latest pavement condition report, MnDOT reported that state highway system will go from about 4 percent in “poor” condition to about 10 percent by 2016 based on current projections, more than a doubling of poor roads.

By 2022, the report states, the percent of state highways in poor condition will go to 13 percent, a threefold increase in the level from 2003.

The report also shows hundreds of miles of roads around the state that have a remaining service life of 0-3 years. Incredible.

Road funding is not politics, it’s basic economics.

Yet, year after year our elected leaders seem reluctant to tackle the issue. It’s one of their core responsibilities: to maintain the assets owned and funded by the taxpayers. And it’s a direct benefit to taxpayers.

Every legislator in every county has a responsibility to the taxpayers of that county to make sure there’s enough road funding. Pavement conditions are deteriorating, county by county. The funding will only fix 60 percent of it right now.

Gov. Mark Dayton should also make getting this done a priority this year. He was reluctant to back the recommendations of his bipartisan Transportation Finance Advisory Commission last year that detailed the needs and recommended funding, mostly increasing the gas tax.

The governor said he didn’t believe there was political support for the gas tax increase. If that remains the case, then he and the Legislature need to get political support for a gas tax or look at alternatives that will have support. Other states are successfully trying new funding mechanisms like a wholesale gas tax or wheelage fees.

Dayton had earlier said he wanted his new transportation commissioner to come up with an innovative plan for road funding. Fair enough. Transportation Commissioner Charles Zelle has traveled the state to some 60 town-hall meetings and his report seems to suggest that everywhere he goes, people recognize the importance of bringing transportation funding up to where it needs to be. So, we’re wondering what the holdup is. We hope legislators see the vast public support for transportation infrastructure and they act in the interest of their constituents.

Any legislator who doesn’t vote to increase the funding this year needs to explain to their constituency why they favor more expensive road repairs later or which state highways they would like to shut down.

As we have said before, no one is disagreeing on the math on this one.

We know the problem. We know the solutions. We now must have the political courage and belief in our policy to maintain the taxpayers’ investments in infrastructure. It’s irresponsible to do otherwise.