Senator says measure targeting trunk highways would save the state millions in contractors' charges.
A senator overseeing transportation spending said on Thursday that highway work suspended during last summer's government shutdown could cost the state $50 million.
Sen. Joe Gimse, R-Willmar, chairman of the Transportation Committee, proposed a law to keep highway projects rolling during any shutdowns by tapping dedicated highway funds.
Last year's three-week shutdown hit highway construction especially hard, delaying 48 projects for months and costing contractors money. They have filed damage claims against the state on 113 projects.
"We're looking at an estimate of maybe $30 to $50 million ... that is coming out of our transportation budget to cover the claims of the shutdown," Gimse said.
His proposal to continue paying for the highway work passed the committee on Thursday, and a companion measure is in the House.
But some DFLers said the initiative could invite shutdowns by removing an incentive to broker a deal.
"There is another consequence we may be creating -- more shutdowns," said Sen. Kathy Sheran, DFL-Mankato.
The measure is supported by the Associated General Contractors of Minnesota and the Minnesota Transportation Alliance, which represent contractors, unions, local government and others involved in highway projects.
Covering contractors' damage claims on top of the original cost of a project "means less bang for the construction dollar," said Margaret Donahoe of the Transportation Alliance.
The proposed legislation calls for using money from the state highway fund to pay for projects underway before a shutdown. The funding, from state motor vehicle taxes and gasoline taxes, would go for projects on state trunk highways but not local roads.
In addition to paying contractors' bills, the money would be used to keep inspectors from the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) on the job.
Gimse said he based his estimate of the ultimate cost of the shutdown on information from MnDOT and Associated General Contractors.
MnDOT hasn't published a final cost estimate, saying claims are still coming in from contractors and are subject to verification and negotiations. MnDOT said last month that it already has paid out $2 million in settlements.
With many expensive claims still pending, the final cost is likely to erase an estimated $5 million in savings from the shutdown cited last year by state officials.
Pat Doyle • 612-673-4504