‘‘Somebody is going to have to pay for it, or everything will simply fall apart.’’ Rep. Dean Urdahl, R-Grove City
Minnesota’s airports are above average, but its drinking water infrastructure only rates a C-minus grade, and its congested roads don’t rate even that high.
A team of Minnesota-based civil engineers gave the state an overall grade of C encompassing nine categories of public works that touch just about every resident. The state’s C compares with a national infrastructure grade of D-plus, according to the report released Tuesday by the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) following 18 months of study.
“Reliable infrastructure is key to preserving Minnesota’s successful economy and high quality of life,” said Jason Staebell, an engineer who chaired the Minnesota Infrastructure Report Card Committee. Now, “it’s mediocre and requires attention.”
The snapshot of the fundamental services provided by government found them to be aging and in dire need of expensive repairs.
“They’re the backbone of our communities that we mostly take for granted until there’s a crisis,” said Ariel Christenson, a St. Paul-based engineer. “Engineering work is mostly behind the scenes until buses break down, bridges are closed or sewers back up.”
The group called for funding to modernize and maintain Minnesota’s infrastructure.
And state and local governments will shoulder the financial burden as support has dissipated from the federal government. “We need to help ourselves,” Christenson said.
Minnesota’s beleaguered road system received the lowest grade of all — a D-plus. Roads across the state are in poor condition, and congestion in the Twin Cities means motorists spend an average of 41 hours in rush-hour traffic every year, a slog that costs drivers $1,332 each in commuting expenses annually.
The state says roads will be underfunded by nearly $18 billion over the next 20 years, but revenue sources to fix then, including the gas tax, remain stagnant.
The Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) said in a statement that the report confirms what the department “been pointing out for a number of years. Minnesota needs to develop a long-term, sustainable and dedicated funding solution for the state’s transportation system.”
The state’s aviation system received a B grade — the highest grade afforded any one category.
The Minneapolis St.-Paul International Airport and its metro reliever airports garnered kudos for $455 million in improvements made over the past year.
Metropolitan Airports Commission spokesman Patrick Hogan said airports across the country have been stymied by the Federal Aviation Administration from increasing a facility fee each traveler pays when purchasing an airline ticket — at MSP it’s $4.50 per ticket. That would help pay for improvements, he said.
“There is never enough revenue to cover all our needs,” Hogan said. “So we do the best we can with what we have.”
The remaining categories received some variations of a C grade.
That includes the condition of state’s 19,776 bridges — an emotional category for Minnesotans given the I-35W bridge collapse in 2007 that killed 13 people.
About 5.4 percent of the state’s bridges are considered structurally deficient, although the report didn’t specify which ones.
The report has been done nationally for many years, but this is the first time that Minnesota engineers volunteered time to research the different categories of infrastructure on a state level.
Alene Tchourumoff, chairwoman of the Metropolitan Council which oversees wastewater treatment and transit in the metro area, noted: “In the next two decades another 700,000 people will be living in our region. If we don’t make those investments today, we risk stifling future economic growth.”
Sen. Scott Dibble, DFL-Minneapolis, warned at a news conference Tuesday that “states that fail to develop top-notch transportation” systems have “inferior economies.” He characterized the report card as “disappointing, but extremely helpful.”
Rep. Dean Urdahl, R-Grove City, conceded the state needs to do more. “If we don’t take care of what we own, somebody is going to have to pay for it, or everything will simply fall apart.”