Q: I use unleaded gas to fill my combustion-engine car. When I do, I pay a tax to maintain and build new roads. The electric cars use the same roads that I do but pay zero gas tax. If electric car sales increase, the tax base will certainly decrease. Does Governor Walz have any plans to solve this upcoming problem?
A: If he does, he’s not telling Ask Us Guy.
This question was forwarded to the communications department in the governor’s office, but the response didn’t come from there.
While it wouldn’t have been surprising if the hot-potato topic had been shunted to the Department of Transportation, it actually ended up in the hands of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency.
Ask Us Guy doesn’t know exactly why MPCA got stuck with it, but he ended up learning something he didn’t know about transportation funding from the MPCA’s communications director. Ask Us Guy assumed the state fuel tax of just under 29 cents per gallon was the primary source of road revenue in Minnesota and that electric vehicle drivers were no-shows when it came to contributing to the wellspring of highway repair dollars.
Not so, according to Darin Broton of the MPCA. Proceeds from the fuel tax make up only about a third of the highway fund.
“A vast majority of the funding comes from vehicle sales tax and registration fees,” Broton said. “EV owners pay a little more in these fees than people buying standard cars and trucks because of the cost of the vehicles. ... There is also a $75 annual surcharge that EV owners pay for their vehicles.”
So electric vehicle drivers are not complete freeloaders by any means. Nonetheless, replacement funding for the gas tax will need to be found as more and more people switch to electric vehicles.
“As our transportation system continues to transition to electric vehicles, federal, state and local policymakers will have to revisit the long-term funding options for infrastructure,” he said.
Q: To my knowledge roads are not sealed on an annual basis. Is there a reason why they aren’t?
It sounds like both asphalt and concrete driveways should have this practice done to extend the life of the driveway, so it would seem logical that our roads and highways would follow the same logic.
A: The basis of this question is probably the “on an annual basis” part because area towns, counties and even the Minnesota Department of Transportation definitely chip-seal streets and roads. Everyone driving in the area this month at some point probably found themselves on a street or road freshly treated — the tarlike stuff put down as sealant and the thick layer of pea rock or rock chips spread on top. After traffic has compressed the rocks into the tar for a few days, the loose rocks are swept up and the roads are restriped. (The little rocks, by the way, aren’t there just to keep cars from getting splattered by tar. They’re necessary to ensure the sealed road still provides good traction for drivers.)
As for how often the roads get seal-coated, Ask Us Guy tossed the question at Blue Earth Public Works Director Ryan Thilges, who’s responsible for well over 400 miles of paved roads in the county, along with a couple of hundred miles of gravel roads. All of those paved roads have at least two lanes, many have three or four. So that’s a lot of asphalt and concrete.
“We do about 45 miles of seal coats a year,” Thilges said.
That allows all of the bituminous paved roads to be coated every seven to 10 years.
The process delays oxidation of the road surface, which otherwise would become brittle and more susceptible to damage from vehicles and weather.
“That’s a critical pavement-preservation activity,” he said.
So why not do all the roads every year, just like some homeowners do with their driveways?.
“It’s not practical or really necessary to do it every year on the roads,” Thilges said, adding that the sealant the county uses is both more durable and more costly than what people purchase at the home-improvement store. “The stuff we put on our roads is a little more expensive than the black goop you see people spreading on their driveways.”
Contact Ask Us at The Free Press, 418 S. Second St., Mankato, MN 56001. Call Mark Fischenich at 344-6321 or email your question to firstname.lastname@example.org; put Ask Us in the subject line.