MARSHALL - People who work in the transportation and infrastructure business in Minnesota are putting their faith in Congress that it will act this week to keep the federal Highway Trust Fund from going broke. If Congress doesn't come up with a long-term solution before recess this week, Minnesota motorists could feel the effect.
The MN Transportation Alliance says the Highway Trust Fund is in such dire straits that it will go broke in August without Congressional action to bail out the fund. Because it's an election year, however, the group believes Congress will opt for a 10-month fix.
"MnDOT is saying that unless there is a new authorization act soon - and everything is always so up in the air in Washington - and the current one expires, there are a number of projects they think will be at risk," said Margaret Donahoe, the executive director of the MN Transportation Alliance. "We're OK for right now - the projects that are currently under construction - but beyond that, if they don't pass another authorization bill, it's hard to prepare and plan for future projects."
MN Transportation Alliance says needed work to repair roads and bridges should be able to keep going through the construction season despite a reduction in federal funding. But if the basic problem with the federal highway trust fund is not addressed sometime in the next year, more serious consequences could be felt. The growing gap between revenue coming into the fund and the amount of money being spent to maintain and improve transportation systems paints a bleak picture of every state's infrastructure.
The Alliance says an outdated per-gallon fuel tax is the real cause for the federal funding problem.
"We've heard from people who are upset about all the potholes this spring, and we know a lot of that is because of the age of our roads," Donahoe said. "And that will only get worse. I think we're going to see another really tough spring next year. It's a real cost for people when they have to have their car fixed, or get new tires or a front-end alignment. That's more expensive than an increase in the gas tax."
Donahoe said with the way things are going in D.C. it's likely going to be up to the state to move things forward to generate its own funding for roads and bridges.
The Legislature considered a transportation funding plan during the 2014 session that would ensure the FY2015 projects around the state will stay on track and improve the safety and effectiveness of the state's transportation system for years to come. But the state, she said, should also prepare for beyond 2015 and consider what the effect a decline of federal funding would mean. With the clock ticking and continuous discord in D.C., Donahoe is less than confident Congress will pass anything more than a Band-Aid fix.
"I think it's important to look at what the state can do to take care of our roads and bridges," she said. "It looks like the federal government will not be as reliable of a partner as they were in the past."
Recent flooding has also taken a toll on road infrastructure in Minnesota and the expected infusion of federal money to help pay for those fixes won't cover all the costs, Donahoe said. That would mean another expense the state and local governments would have to shoulder.