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Fixing outdated infrastructure will require collaboration

By David Sturrock

Minnesota legislators have been getting first-hand looks at our state’s increasingly worn and outdated infrastructure as they prepare to develop a capital bonding bill for the 2020 legislative session. As they travel, they cannot help but notice the many chokepoints and safety hazards posed by roads and bridges across Greater Minnesota.

Both vehicle weights and traffic fatalities increased in 2018. State and county highways are becoming increasingly dangerous, to the point that the majority of Minnesota traffic deaths now occur on rural two-lane highways.

Any new funding that legislators provide in the 2020 bonding bill for state highways, local roads and bridges, and community transit systems will be welcome, and will help Southwest Minnesota in a number of ways. But it’s also time for the Legislature and governor to resist dealing with infrastructure in partisan, us v.them terms.

Minnesota’s need for newer, safer and better connected transportation options knows no party. It’s time for our state’s leaders — from both parties and all regions — to work together to adopt long-term, dedicated funding sources that will deliver the transportation improvements that our region and state need.

In 2008, the Minnesota Legislature and governor struggled to adopt a long-term funding source. After an unfortunate veto-and-override dispute, an 8.5 cent fuel tax increase was adopted, to be phased in over four years.

At the time, that action was considered a 10-year plan for addressing the state’s needs. And it did provide many improvements over the next decade, from new bridges (including the 35W replacement), highway and passing lane expansions on Highway 23, safer local roadways and more extensive transit service in all parts of Minnesota.

However, we will soon be in “year twelve” of that ten-year plan. In our area, improvements are needed along Highways 23, 59 and 68, but given current funding levels they will languish since they are not included in

MnDOT’s 20-year highway investment plan. In addition, Lyon County has seven bridges on the master list of deficient bridges whose replacement must be funded from state bonding. Also, Lyon County’s United Community Action Partnership serves a growing ridership even as it struggles to maintain its aging bus fleet.

Greater Minnesota’s key transportation corridors must receive safety and capacity improvements if we are to enjoy productivity gains, new jobs and improved connectivity with other parts of the state, including the Twin Cities metro area. These steps will help our agricultural and manufacturing sectors get their products to market easier, and enable motorists to get to their destinations more quickly and more safely.

Many funding options have been debated, including dedicated sales tax and registration streams, gas tax increases and bonding proceeds. None of these alone can be a complete answer, but if the governor and legislature can approach this issue in a far-sighted, collaborative spirit it will be possible to achieve a broadly-based, sustainable transportation funding model that can bring safety, connectivity and economic gains for Southwest Minnesota and all parts of our state.

— David Sturrock is Chairman of the Marshall Area Transportation Group, and was recently elected to the Board of Directors of the Minnesota Transportation Alliance.

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