Minnesota's bridges are still out there, aging; like all things do.
This opinion piece by Lori Sturdevant hit the pages of the Star Tribune earlier this week. It makes the argument that transportation funding at the State level is needed or taxpayers will "pay a high price if they continue their habit of neglect."
If only things were that simple.
The problem with infrastructure funding can be boiled down to the example given in this Strib Opinion piece: the 10th Ave Bridge.
The 10th Ave Bridge in Minneapolis is a local street with a local bridge that serves local traffic. Yet, we find it necessary to criticize State legislators for not allocating money to support a project that has no state or regional significance.
Herein lies the disconnect between how we think transportation financing works and how it actually works.
Different levels of government are responsible for different roadways. For example, you can pass a major Federal transportation bonding bill that will allocate money to highways, interstates or some choice transit projects, yet none of that money will trickle to local streets or bridges. Also, 57% of the funds would go to new projects and not maintenance.
This bridge does need repair work. No question about it. And, Minneapolis claims it cannot afford the bridge. This is probably a true statement. So, at this point, we should ask ourselves: why can't Minneapolis afford this bridge?
In my mind, this is the billion dollar question.
Minneapolis can't afford the bridge because it doesn't want to. Why? Because Minneapolis doesn't truly see the value to build it entirely by itself. This is reminiscent of the Chuck Marohn-ism of eating lobster. It goes something like, "I love lobster and will eat it every day if someone is willing to continually pay 75% of my bill." This is the position the City of Minneapolis finds itself in.
Prior to the construction of the adjancent 35W Bridge, it would have made financial sense. Yet, things have changed. Transportation preferences have changed, and we should adapt. It might sound crazy, but what if we radically changed how we view and use this bridge?
It begs the question; does Minneapolis actually need the 10th Ave Bridge? When 35W was non-existent during 2007/2008, travel times weren't drastically effected. So, why would 10th Avenue be any different? I mean, take a look at this four-lane road on StreetView.
The article states that if there is no transportation bill this year, the 10th Avenue project could grow from a $42 million repair job to a $100-million-plus replacement. I reject this claim. If we blindly rebuild 10th Avenue, then yes. But, if we look at other options, then no! Other options are available and can yield a better result.
I vote we close the bridge, or drastically reduce its car capacity and add another low-impact bike/ped connection between the two banks of the University campus. This would be much cheaper and have far more benefit.
We can't keep throwing money at a problem without a good feedback loop. The four lane local street/bridge combination has likely run its course, and let's seriously re-evaluate if this is what we actually want.