Back in 2014, as our legislators knocked on doors and held town halls to win votes, they made big promises to Minnesota.
Chief among them was a comprehensive transportation funding bill that included dedicated dollars for roads, bridges and transit.
Agreement on a balanced transportation funding package has yet to materialize. This session, legislators have one more chance to make good on that promise before they campaign for re-election later this year.
When you look at the numbers, it is not difficult to see why a comprehensive transportation bill is critical for the safety of all Minnesota drivers.
More than half of our roads are more than 50 years old, and nearly 1,000 of our bridges are structurally deficient. Without a balanced road, bridge and transit funding bill this year, the state will have less and less money to repair and expand the state’s disintegrating infrastructure.
Greater Minnesota, where legislators were most vocal in their campaign pledge to fix transportation, will bear the brunt of legislative inaction. Funding will drop by 45 percent starting next year, and the most traveled corridors will be first in line for repairs and expansion. Rural roads, where there are fewer drivers, will be bumped to the bottom of the list.
Yet the need for better roads is particularly stark in Greater Minnesota, where narrow lanes can be a major safety hazard. Traffic fatalities are the No. 1 cause of death for people ages 2-34, and most of these fatalities are happening on rural, two-lane highways.
A comprehensive transportation bill is critical for the metro area as well. Commuters in the Twin Cities battle traffic that costs them more than $700 a year in lost time and fuel. A long-term funding plan would help ease congestion by providing money to finish road expansions.
A balanced transportation funding bill must include transit resources, too, and not only for people living in the Twin Cities. In Greater Minnesota, many residents rely on buses to get to and from work. Additional funding would expand rural bus lines and make existing services more reliable.
If no additional transportation funding is passed this year, legislators will say they “saved” Minnesotans from paying more in fees.
But that’s simply not true. As has happened in the past, a shortfall in statewide dollars will force counties, cities and towns to raise local property and sales taxes, and issue bonds to repair and expand local roads. People will pay no matter what, but wealthier parts of the state where taxes are higher will end up with better transportation options.
We are heartened by commitments from Gov. Mark Dayton, Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk and House Speaker Kurt Daudt, as well as Senate Transportation Chair Scott Dibble and House Transportation Chair Tim Kelly to tackle a balanced transportation bill for roads, bridges and transit this year.
We are also supportive of a wide range of funding options, including diverting existing user fees to road and bridge construction, and a modest increase in the gas tax.
But politics has a funny way of sidelining the best intentions, as it did last year when the Minnesota House and Senate could not come to terms on transportation funding.
This year is an election year and legislators need to deliver. To fulfill their campaign promises, they must send to the governor’s desk a comprehensive bill that improves our roads, makes our bridges safer and expands bus services.
Vance Stuehrenberg is member of the Blue Earth County Board. Jim McDonough is a member of the Ramsey County Board.