Wheelage tax dollars to help whittle Hennepin, Ramsey road work

  • Article by: TIM HARLOW , Star Tribune
  • Updated: April 18, 2014 - 9:52 PM

New surcharge on vehicle registrations will allow Hennepin, Ramsey to tackle backlog of road projects.

Rough roads in Hennepin and Ramsey counties will get fixed more quickly as public works crews take advantage of new money to speed up projects that would have been put off for a year or more.

In January, both counties enacted a wheelage tax, a $10 surcharge on vehicle registrations to raise money for transportation improvements. That will bring in about $8.6 million in Hennepin County and $3.8 million in Ramsey County each year, money that officials say will allow them to whittle down the extensive list of road projects.

“Our goal is to bring our roads up to standard and get them in a more acceptable condition in three years,” said Joe Lux, a senior planner with the Ramsey County Public Works Department. “We hope to get caught up on the backlog, get our roads in noticeably better shape and keep them that way.”

This summer, Ramsey County Public Works will use its full wheelage tax allocation to tackle 11 paving projects that Lux said were not on this year’s schedule. They include busy thoroughfares, including Lexington Avenue between University and Orchard Avenues in St. Paul; White Bear Avenue between Cope Avenue and Hwy. 36, and County Road B2 between Cleveland and Fairview Avenues in Roseville.

Also on the list are sections of Johnson Parkway, Dale Street, Edgcumbe Road, Marshall Avenue and Larpenteur Avenue in St. Paul, Labore Road in Vadnais Heights and Hodgson Road in Shoreview.

Lux said the conditions of the county’s 295 miles of roads are ranked each year. The results, along with information about traffic volume, are used to prioritize projects. Wheelage tax money represents about one-third of the county’s $14 million construction budget.

“These are 11 projects that might not otherwise have gotten done,” Lux said.

Still, the county has 37 maintenance and resurfacing projects on its “to-do” list. Lux said wheelage taxes collected over the next two years will be dedicated to knocking those off.

Excelsior Blvd. among projects

In Hennepin County, officials have identified $6.7 million in projects that will be done this year. As in Ramsey County, that work includes repaving roads, repairing concrete and sealing cracks in roads. But the county also will use synchronize traffic signals, maintain bridges and retaining walls and replace guardrails, said Kayla Bromelkamp, a county spokeswoman.

High-profile items include pavement overlays on Excelsior Boulevard between Hwy. 100 and Quentin Avenue in St. Louis Park and Shady Oak Road between Red Circle Drive and Bren Road in Minnetonka.

The county also will paint traffic signals on France Avenue in Edina and install video detection at 25 intersections. In total, about 270 traffic signal items are on the list.

Bromelkamp said the projects funded by the wheelage tax are “not supplanting” projects that had been scheduled. “These are in addition to,” she said. “These are projects there was not funding for or had been pushed back on the schedule.”

Hennepin has budgeted a total of $35.9 million in construction projects for 2014, Bromelkamp said.

Taxpayers soon will be able to see exactly where their wheelage tax dollars are being spent on the county’s website, www.hennepin.us.

Follow news about traffic and commuting at The Drive on startribune.com. Got traffic or transportation questions, or story ideas? E-mail drive@startribune.com, tweet@stribdrive or call Tim Harlow at 612-673-7768

  • New cash per year

    $8.6 million: Hennepin County

    $3.8 million: Ramsey County

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