Congestion on metro area highways will only get worse in the coming years if Minnesota’s transportation system is not improved and enhanced, according to a report out Thursday by a TRIP, a national nonprofit transportation research group.
In its report called "Minnesota’s Transportation Challenges and Improvement Needed to Address Them," the nonprofit also said deteriorating pavement, bridges that are structurally unsound, and deficient public transit systems are hampering commuting and threaten to stifle economic growth and negatively impact the quality of life for state’s 5 million residents.
The state would need to spend $7.1 to $9.4 billion to address the state’s top transportation challenges outlined in the report, which representatives of the Washington DC.-based research group delivered during a news conference at the State Capitol.
"Maintaining county highways and city streets sot they are safe and in good repair is important to Minnesota residents and businesses," said Ken Brown, Olmstead County Commissioner. "Without adequate state resources, local governments have to rely more and more on property tax dollars to repair critical infrastructure. This increasing burden on our property taxes means we continue to fall further behind in maintaining our infrastructure here in Minnesota."
Nearly one-third of state roads are either in poor or mediocre condition, according to data from the Federal Highway Administration. The TRIP report identified segments of I-94 in the Twin Cities on its list of roads most in need of reconstruction or repair.
The report also said the state faces a significant challenge in the need to relieve congestion in the metro area. It said sections of Interstates 35W, 35E, 94, 394 and 694 along with Hwy. 100 are in need of improvements in the form of capacity enhancements, roadway reconstruction and managed lanes to improve traffic management. Just this week MnDOT announced plans to address the chokepoint on Hwy. 100 just south of 394. It plans to spend $80 million to widen Hwy. 100 and redo interchanges at Hwy. 7 and Minnetonka Blvd., beginning in 2014.
Traffic volume on state roads has increased by 45 percent between 1990 and 2010 from 39 billion vehicle miles of travel to 57 billion.
According to the Texas Transportation Institute, the average commuter in the Minneapolis-St. Paul metro area wastes 23 gallons of fuel each year and 50 hours annually while stuck in congestion. That results in a loss of $1,166 annually per commuter in the cost of time and wasted fuel.
"Minnesota’s urban roads have become increasingly congested, hampering commuting and commerce while reducing economic opportunities and quality of life in the state," the report said. Unless addressed, "congestion will worsen dramatically in the coming years."
The report said an adequate transit system could help relieve traffic congestion, but it said the state’s public transit system is overburdened. That leads to gaps in service and reliability along key transit routes. The report said current needs include expanding Metro Mobility and regular bus service in the Twin Cities, increasing funding for the Hiawatha Light Rail line and the new rail service between Minneapolis and St. Paul slated to begin next year. It also called for establishing more Bus Rapid Transit corridors such as the one that will operate on Cedar Avenue starting in June.
The report said those improvements would cost $1.1 billion dollars and that the state needs to allocate another $171 to $181 million in for operational costs.
The report’s authors also acknowledge that with insufficient funding at the federal, state and local level, Minnesota faces "numerous challenges in providing a road, highway, bridge and transit network that is smooth, well-maintained, safe and affords a level of mobility capable of supporting the state’s economic goals."