Other’s Opinion: Dayton’s long-term roads plan deserves attention

Published 10:28 am Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Raise your hand.

Now, take it down if you think roads in Central Minnesota — and across the state — are fine, and there’s really no need to increase funding for this important public infrastructure.

In the time it takes for your still-extended arm to get tired, here’s some points to ponder about the massive $6 billion, 10-year statewide transportation funding plan DFL Gov. Mark Dayton released last week.

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First: Yes, the plan is expensive. It will add about 16 cents to the state gas tax. It will increase tab fees. And, yes, a half-cent sales tax in the Twin Cities area will pull about $2.8 billion from consumers’ pockets.

But the plan is also massive. If adopted without changes, practically every part of the state would see transportation improvements by 2025. The governor’s office projects those to include more than 600 projects covering 2,200 miles of roads and 330 bridges.

Projects overseen by local governments would see $2.356 billion of work — $1.58 billion directly to counties, $490 million directly to cities, plus $153 million to those jurisdictions through the state Department of Transportation. In addition, townships would see $133 million.

Dayton’s office projects this plan would invest up to $104.6 million in 23 state road and bridge improvement projects in Benton, Sherburne and Stearns counties. Starting in 2019, Benton would get $1.28 million, Sherburne would get $1.68 million and Stearns would get $3.97 million annually.

The city of St. Cloud also would get about $1 million a year from the plan, which also aims to give local leaders the resources and flexibility in deciding priorities

The plan provides $2.92 billion for transit systems statewide, including $120 million for systems outside of the Twin Cities, which yields about 500,000 hours of service annually. Another $75 million would go toward bike and pedestrian infrastructure.

Collectively, the plan is Dayton’s solution to the long-asked question of what can Minnesotans do to help their aging transportation system get caught up and even expand in some areas.

Should it be adopted? It’s too soon to tell.

What’s already clear is this: Republicans, especially those controlling the House, must put forth this session their long-term vision for how Minnesota is to maintain and, where needed, expand this important public infrastructure. The GOP House plan offered in the session’s opening days does not do that.

Now, though, the state’s economy is expanding, gas prices are lower than last year, and it’s been almost a decade since state elected officials provided any significant long-term solutions. In that time, it’s become clear more investment is needed to maintain and expand transportation and transit systems.

That’s why the Legislature needs to act. The governor is offering his solution. Republicans now must do the same so the process toward compromise can commence.

If they don’t, keep your hand raised so the next time you see Central Minnesota’s all-GOP delegation you can ask them why traffic is bad now and will get worse for the next 10 years.

—St. Cloud Times

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