Many what-ifs fill project list for Dayton roads plan

Published 10:38 am Tuesday, March 3, 2015

ST. PAUL — The Minnesota Department of Transportation offered more details Monday about a project list that would sprout from Gov. Mark Dayton’s $6 billion road-funding request, providing wide-ranging estimates to arrive at the need.

The transportation agency’s list put dollar figures behind potential projects Dayton has said won’t get done without a substantial infusion of new money, possibly from a higher gas tax. The list covers hundreds of highway and bridge projects in every corner of the state.



It’s part of Dayton’s campaign to build legislative and public support for a 10-year funding plan his administration is calling “NexTen.” Republican opponents of the proposal say it’s unfair for the Democratic governor to tie specific projects to passage of new taxes.

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The GOP House leaders have panned the proposed gas-tax increase and questioned whether the $6 billion target is inflated. They have yet to come out with a long-term proposal of their own while majority Senate Democrats are behind a plan similar to the Dayton plan.

There are multi-million dollar spreads between the low- and high-cost estimates for some projects. Transportation officials say that’s because more-precise estimates won’t be done until money is assured. Some could be done cheaper, but the officials warn those repairs would have a shorter lifespan.

Glenn Engstrom, director of the MnDOT Office of Materials and Road Research, said relying on the lower-cost estimate would mean thinner overlays in some resurfacing projects.

“We do shorter term fixes which really aren’t cost effective in the long-term,” he said. “That’s what got us to where we are.”

The cost rundown provides a $4.16 billion estimate on the low end and a $7.85 billion projection on the high end. Mark Nelson, MnDOT’s statewide planning manager, said officials settled on $6 billion as a conservative middle ground for projects that they are confident they could deliver over a decade barring natural disasters or significant materials inflation.

The biggest ranges revolve around bridge projects because engineers would have to assess whether existing spans could be repaired or torn down and replaced. For example, one Interstate 394 bridge in Hennepin County ranged from $2 million to almost $87 million depending on what course gets taken.

Firmly embedded in the tally is $306 million for preventative maintenance and added operations costs, such as hiring more agency staff to oversee the massive construction program. Tens of millions would also go to pedestrian improvements along rebuilt roads and additions to the bicycle-lane network.