Movement in motion to revive bonding bill

  • Article by: PAT DOYLE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: August 15, 2007 - 11:16 PM

Lawmakers want to bring back a bill to borrow $30 million or more to replace or fix aging bridges.

Gov. Tim Pawlenty's veto of a bonding bill this year deprived communities of $30 million to start replacing or repairing hundreds of aging bridges, and pressure is building to revive the proposal in a special legislative session this year.

Located mostly in rural Minnesota and built in the 1940s or earlier, the bridges are too weak to handle heavy truck traffic or are generally in bad shape. Residents of small towns and cities complain that the structures hamper commerce and jeopardize safety -- albeit on a scale smaller than what happened when the Interstate 35W bridge collapsed.

"They're not going to have 30 cars going down ... but you could have a truck going through and possibly kill somebody," said Sen. Keith Langseth, DFL-Glyndon, chair of the Capital Investment Committee and a sponsor of the bonding bill.

Sen. Dennis Frederickson, R-New Ulm, another supporter, said driving on a country road can be "a little unnerving if you're meeting a big farm tractor ... on the bridge. There just isn't enough width."

DFL and GOP leaders said Wednesday that they would revive a bridge bonding measure if the Legislature convenes this fall.

"That would be something I would advocate for in a special session as part of a transportation package," said Senate Minority Leader David Senjem, R-Rochester, adding that he'd consider more than $30 million. "I would be willing to certainly look higher this time around."

The bill Pawlenty vetoed called for borrowing $168 million to finance a variety of construction projects, including a research facility at the University of Minnesota, a crime lab and convention centers.

"The governor did not veto the 2007 bonding bill over transportation items," said Pawlenty spokesman Brian McClung. "He vetoed that bill because it was four times larger than his recommendation and was not focused on consensus items."

But bill supporters said the governor could have line-item vetoed objectionable provisions in the bonding bill and preserved the borrowing for bridge improvements.

McClung countered that the Legislature could have passed a more targeted bonding bill after the governor's veto. He said any bonding bill in a special session must earmark a greater share of funds to transportation.

About 400 local bridges in Minnesota are defined as deficient by the federal government and targeted in the near future for replacement or rehabilitation by the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT).

The bonding program provides money for bridges that are not eligible for some other state highway funds. Federal funds are available to supplement the state bonds.

Legislators from both major parties say there is a backlog of bridges needing replacement or major repairs. The program concentrates on bridges that are at least 60 years old.

A 2000 legislative study on local bridges said "the demand for resources to replace and repair deficient local bridges will increase significantly due to this wave of aging bridges" and other factors.

Modern agriculture has put pressure on old bridges and on officials to fix them.

Farming involves "big grain bins you see pulled behind these giant tractors ... far more than ... in the 1950s and '60s when it was a tractor and a little wagon with a load of corn," Senjem said.

"I've got a bridge in Dodge County right now that needs to be replaced," Senjem said. "I think it's got a 6-ton rating, so a lot of the farm trucks have to travel about 15 miles around on a different route. Until we get it fixed and back up to 9 tons, we just have to reroute that heavy traffic."

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