Study shows state highways need additional funding

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, April 18, 2001

Motorists in Minnesota always face potholes each spring.

Wednesday, April 18, 2001

Motorists in Minnesota always face potholes each spring.

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Most of them can be filled. One cannot.

That’s the $8 billion deep pothole of unfunded repair and replacement needs over the next 10 years for Minnesota’s highways, bridges and local roads.

According to the 2001 Minnesota Road Transportation Needs Assessment Study, the 12,000-mile network of state trunk highways, which serves as the backbone of Minnesota’s transportation system, is facing more than $6 billion in unfunded needs over the next 10 years.

The trunk highway system is the only road system in the state, according to the report, for which unfunded needs exceed planned investment over 10 years.

In addition to the needs facing state highways, county highways, roads and bridges need more than $1 billion in additional funding over the next 10 years with municipal and township systems needing nearly $800 million.

The study shows travel demands in Minnesota have increased dramatically over the past 20 years and urban congestion has worsened significantly.

Traffic congestion already may have had a negative impact on the efficiency of regional economies.

Light rail and other transit strategies cannot alone solve the congestion problem, according to the study’s findings.

The estimated annual needs on Minnesota’s road system is a whopping $785 million.

Of all the road systems, only the state trunk highway system has a greater annual unmet need than the annual funding base available. Under current funding levels over the next decade, the state will meet less than one-half the needs of the state highway system, according to the study.

Nearly 15 percent of Minnesota’s 19,447 bridges are considered structurally deficient and the cost of repair is at least $644.5 million.

The study says there is no single "fix" for transportation infrastructure deficiencies.

Also, any long-term plan that is developed and implemented will cost billions of dollars over the next decade.

The bottom line: the only possible solution is dedicating the sales tax on motor vehicles to transportation purposes and aggressive use of trunk highway funding.

Also, trunk highway fund appropriations for non-highway purposes must be transferred to the general fund.

A portion of future budget surpluses must be dedicated to transportation and transfers from highway trust fund for collection costs must be eliminated.

Lastly and, perhaps, most bitterly for taxpayers, the motor fuel tax must be increased and a sales tax on motor fuels must be imposed.

Dr. James S. Wafler, president of the Highway Construction Industry Council, visited Austin recently with Robert J. McFarlin, president of McF Consulting Group, a public relations and public affairs communication organization, pursuing an aggressive public information campaign in the last weeks of the 2001 Minnesota legislative session to drum up support for an ambitious program to attempt to meet the unmet transportation system needs.

The needs assessment study is, Wafler said, proof-positive of how serious this funding pothole really is.

"This report shows that under current funding levels, Minnesota will fund less than half the repair, replacement and expansion needs of the state highway system over the next 10 years," Wafler said. "That is clearly unacceptable in serving the citizens, businesses and travelers of the state."

"While the magnitude of the statewide problem is clearly great, the good news is that potential solutions are affordable and would be strongly supported by Minnesota taxpayers," Wafler said.

As dismal as the report sounds, Wafler said there is hope.

"The report offers several policy options, including a highway bonding program, directing revenues from the state sales tax on motor vehicles to highways or a modest increase in the state gasoline tax."

"We believe any of the options put forth in the study would receive public support," he concluded.

Fred Corrigan, executive vice president of the Minnesota Transportation Alliance and a founding member of the Invest 2000 transportation funding coalition, agrees. Also, Corrigan said he remains confident despite recent forecasts suggesting a reduction in the state’s projected budget surplus through June 2003.

"The nearly $10 billion in unfunded transportation needs facing Minnesota over the next 10 years are unaffected by the new budget forecast," Corrigan said. "The Legislature has made significant progress in understanding these needs and considering potential solutions."

Corrigan’s advice: "The Legislature should continue on the path of developing a long-term funding strategy for transportation and not be dissuaded or distracted by the short-term budget forecast."

Local impact

One category is particularly interesting in the study of unmet needs: bridges.

Mower County is responsible for every bridge in the county, whether it is in a city, a township or other area.

While no individual county totals are available from the study quoted in efforts to address the massive unmet needs of the state’s transportation system, the total estimated improvement cost for repairing/replacing deficient bridges is $645.8 million or an average cost per bridge of $230,700.

Just how far-reaching that would be in Mower County, as well as its neighboring counties, is obvious.

According to the study, there were 79 deficient bridges in Mower County’s 20 townships as of Dec. 14, 2000.

The state had 1,140.

Among Mower County’s neighbors, Fillmore County reported 78 deficient township bridges, Dodge 18, Steele 14 and Freeborn 10.

There were 299 10-foot and wider deficient city-only bridges in the state as of Dec. 1, 1999, according to the study.

Mower County had eight, the highest total among its neighbors, Fillmore, Dodge, Steele and Freeborn, which combined for 10.

There were 894 10-foot or wider county bridges as of Dec. 1, 1999.

Mower County had 23, but Fillmore County had 83. Meanwhile, Dodge County had seven, Steele 17 and Freeborn 2.

The study also showed there were seven deficient bridges (10 feet and over) on trunk highways only in Mower County when the same study was made.

Call Lee Bonorden at 434-2232 or e-mail him at