More than 2,200 miles of state roads and 330 bridges would be repaired, replaced or expanded over the next decade in a controversial transportation funding plan Gov. Mark Dayton proposed Tuesday.
The $6 billion, 10-year overhaul of the state’s basic transportation infrastructure includes more than 600 projects across the state — from Aitkin to Yellow Medicine counties — paid for in part by an increase in license tab fees and an additional gas tax that would have drivers paying an extra 16 cents a gallon at current prices.
“Doing nothing or next to nothing is not an option,” Dayton said at a news conference.
Top Republicans quickly cried foul, saying the release of such a hefty list of transportation fixes smacked of political earmarking.
Seventy-two percent of the projects pitched by Dayton are located in outstate Minnesota, while the rest would be in the seven-county metro area.
Charles Zelle, commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Transportation, said roughly half of Minnesota’s roads are now more than 50 years old, and 40 percent of the states’ bridges are over 40 years old. In the next three years, one in five Minnesota roads will surpass their useful life, he noted.
“We’ve been called upon to be efficient and prudent, and these projects are just that,” he said. “The abundance of these projects are in greater Minnesota.”
One of the biggest projects involves reconstructing Interstate 94 between Minneapolis and St. Paul, a massive overhaul that would involve widening the bridge over the Mississippi River and perhaps adding a MnPass lane. Other big items include widening Hwy. 14 in Mankato to four lanes and modernizing six bridges; solving the bottleneck at Interstates 35W and 494; and widening I-94 between St. Michael and Albertville.
Project costs not included
The individual cost for each project listed in the Dayton plan was not revealed, however. Mass transit projects were not included in the report either.
According to a snapshot of Dayton’s plan, Hennepin County would receive $60 million in 2019, an increase of $13 million, while Ramsey County’s cut would be $27 million, up $6 million. Every county in the state would see an increase of about 25 percent over current projections.
The exhaustive list, which includes projects as modest as repaving a half a mile of Hwy. 2 in Bemidji, will likely serve as catnip to local officials staring down an impending pothole season this spring. “It’s cold this week, next week it will be warm, we’re just incubating new potholes,” Zelle said.
To pay for his roads-and-bridges plan, Dayton has proposed a 6.5 percent gross receipts tax on gasoline at the wholesale level. But as gas prices rise, so would the wholesale tax. At $4 per gallon, the wholesale tax would be 22 cents. That would be on top of the existing state gas tax of 28.5 cents per gallon.
The governor is also pitching an increase in license tab fees and issuing $2 billion in trunk highway bonds.
At odds over funding
The plan has drawn the ire of Republican lawmakers, many of whom disagree with the scope of the infrastructure problem as Dayton and DFLers have defined it, and the financial means to repair it. “They seem to disagree with everything I do,” Dayton quipped when asked about the philosophical divide.
House Republicans released a plan in January that would tap the state’s projected budget surplus and shave spending at MnDOT to fund $750 million in repairs over the next four years. They’ve said that they’re also against any tax hike.
Sen. John Pederson, R-St. Cloud, said Dayton is “obviously trying to gather support for a plan that involves all-new revenue. I think it’s pretty disingenuous.” Pederson, the ranking minority member of the Senate Transportation Committee, said part of the state’s $1 billion surplus should help pay for road and bridge projects instead.
Rep. Tim Kelly, Republican chair of the House Transportation committee, said releasing a list of potential projects seemed like politically driven earmarking — a charge Dayton denied.
“The governor is promising everything to everyone with these projects, it’s like it’s Christmas all over again,” Kelly said.
Dayton will travel to Mankato Wednesday to pitch the plan, particularly the overhaul of Hwy. 14, to southern Minnesota officials.