Buckle up and brace for bumpy roads

  • Article by: PAT DOYLE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: February 14, 2011 - 8:54 PM

MnDOT foresees a rough ride ahead for motorists because of major shortfalls in transportation funding.

Brace yourself for a jarring prediction: The quality of Minnesota highways will worsen sharply.

The miles of primary and secondary highways with poor pavement will double and triple by 2020, the Minnesota Department of Transportation told legislators Monday.

"I don't like the trend that I'm seeing here," said Rep. Frank Hornstein, DFL-Minneapolis. "I hope this serves as a wakeup call."

But expected shortfalls in funding to meet transportation needs leave too little money to maintain or improve pavement, said Peggy Reichert, a MnDOT director of transportation planning.

"If we had more money ... one of the things we would do is put it into pavement," she said.

"What's really falling through the cracks is our pavement conditions."

The state gas tax, motor vehicle sales tax and registration fees provide funding for highway improvements, sources of funding that have been lagging amid the slow economy.

Reichert recited earlier MnDOT estimates of $65 billion in highway improvement needs through 2028, but only $15 billion in projected revenues.

The state expects to spend $7.2 billion between now and 2020, with the single biggest chunk -- $2.2 billion -- going for pavement preservation.

MnDOT compared current pavement conditions with those expected in the future by describing ride qualities.

There were 416 miles of principal arterial highways in poor riding condition in 2009, the agency said.

Poor highway miles are expected to rise to 598 in 2014 and 915 in 2020.

MnDOT said there were 574 miles of secondary arterial highways in poor condition in 2009 and the number will climb to 1,060 in 2014. If current trends hold, 1,688 miles will be in poor condition by 2020.

Highways with good pavement will decline. The number of principal highway miles in good condition will drop from 4,819 in 2009 to 4,373 in 2020. Miles of secondary highways in good condition will fall from 3,733 in 2009 to 2,930 in 2020.

The agency's plans through 2020 envision "trying to stretch the funding as far as possible," Reichert told legislators.

One priority is repairing or replacing bridges and other projects designed to improve or maintain safety.

Only about 8 percent of the funding expected to be available will be used to reduce congestion, with the emphasis on converting shoulders to lanes for buses, car pools and motorists who pay to use them.

MnDOT created a chart depicting the future performance of various goals. While most got a green light, "pavement" was illustrated by a red stop sign.

Pat Doyle • 651-222-1210

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