It was just last fall that the Minnesota Department of Transportation built a concrete median to separate eastbound from westbound traffic along a dangerous stretch of Hwy. 12 in the west metro to address the problem of crossover crashes that included six fatal wrecks since 2011.
The agency spent $2.3 million to put in the barrier between County Road 112 and County Road 6, a 3½ mile segment from Wayzata to Orono. Safety advocates have wanted MnDOT to do more with the heavily-traveled road and the safety hazards it presents, but there has not been funding for more.
"We are proud of what we were able to do on a short-term basis, but that is the story of our transportation system," said State Transportation Commissioner Charlie Zelle said Wednesday referencing the Hwy. 12 project while speaking on the steps of the State Capitol where transportation advocates gathered to push legislators to pass a transportation funding bill before the 2017 session ends in about a month. "We have been doing a lot of work on short-term basis. It is time we have a long-term, sustainable transportation funding solution so we can have a safe system."
The push for a transportation bill this session comes as lawmakers disagree on how to pay for road, bridge and transit projects even though the state has more than a $1.6 billion surplus. It also comes as the number deaths on state roads hit 411 last year, an uptick after several years of declines, and aging infrastructure falls into disrepair.
"This is the year," said Margaret Donahoe, director of the Minnesota Transportation Alliance. "It is unacceptable to push this down the road any more."
The constitutionally dedicated 28.6 cents per-gallon tax on motor fuels remains the workhorse of the state Trunk Highway Fund, but it is not keeping up with the needs, transportation officials and advocates said. And with proceeds from the Motor Vehicle Sales Tax also declining, MnDOT faces an $18 billion shortfall over the next 20 years. That's money that would go toward addressing roads, safety improvements and transit.
Surrounded by a sea of orange cones representing the 411 lives lost on state roads last year, law enforcement, county commissioners, mayors and others wearing "Fix It Now" buttons had a simple message for legislators:
"Don't stand for one-time funding. Stand only for long-term, sustainable and self-funding in order to keep the state prosperous," Zelle said. "It is life and death because eroding systems become unsafe."
In response to today's rallly, Rep. Paul Torkelson, R-Hanska, Chair of the House Transportation Finance Committee. released this statement:
"I'm pleased we seem to be in agreement about the need for a major investment in our road and bridge infrastructure. It was encouraging to hear in a public interview yesterday that the Governor is open to the Republican plan that relies on existing funds rather than a gas tax increase. I look forward to working with the Governor and his commissioners during the conference committee process to put together a bill that can pass the House and the Senate and earn his signature."