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Dayton unveils list of 600 road, bridge projects

Brian Johnson//February 17, 2015

Dayton unveils list of 600 road, bridge projects

Brian Johnson//February 17, 2015

Putting a new spin on his 10-year, $10.7 billion transportation spending plan, Gov. Mark Dayton on Tuesday released a list of 600 unscheduled road and bridge projects that he said would happen if the plan becomes reality.

The list of would-be projects is an apparent effort to generate public and legislative support for a big transportation vision that would rely on new gas taxes and registration fees. But the vision faces an uphill battle in the Legislature.

Dayton said 2,200 miles of state roads and 330 bridges would be repaired, replaced or expanded over the next 10 years under his plan.

“If we fail to act, the condition of these roads and bridges will get worse,” Dayton said in a statement. “I urge all Minnesotans to review this list of projects and decide for themselves whether these investments are worth making.”

Meanwhile, House Republicans have floated a more modest proposal that doesn’t raise new taxes. The GOP plan calls for $750 million for roads, highways and bridges over the next four years.

Dayton’s list ranges from a 24-mile portion of Highway 169 in Aitkin County to a southbound stretch of Highway 61 over Burns Creek in Winona County. Metro area bridges on the list include a Highway 5 bridge over Interstate 494 near the Fort Snelling National Cemetery, a Nicollet Avenue bridge over I-494 between Richfield and Bloomington, and an I-94 crossing over McKnight Road between St. Paul and Maplewood.

By and large, the projects on Dayton’s list “are not going to happen if we don’t get additional funding,” said Minnesota Department of Transportation communications director Kevin Gutknecht. “This is above and beyond what our regular program would be.”

Dayton and other state lawmakers have said transportation is a top priority for the 2015 session, but it remains to be seen how that will play out at the Capitol.

Transportation lobbyist Margaret Donahoe said it’s important for people to be confident that the money they pay at the pump will go back into the roads. Dayton’s proposal went a step beyond that by saying, “here are specific projects that we envision will benefit from this,” she said.

“It doesn’t have to be the definitive list,” said Donohoe, executive director of the Minnesota Transportation Alliance. “I am sure legislators will have their own idea about projects, as well. … But the more specificity there is around this, the more public support we will see — because people do want to see these projects get done.”

Alluding to the talk that certain projects will or won’t get done if a specific plan succeeds or fails, St. Paul Area Chamber of Commerce president Matt Kramer said the governor’s announcement is “part of the political theater that happens each year” at the Capitol.

The good news, Kramer said, is that a lot of people are talking about transportation. Considering that the legislative session will continue into May, it’s still early in the game.

“There is a lot of discussion that has to happen before May,” Kramer said. “We have three more months to go. And that is a lot of Tylenol.”

In January, Senate DFLers introduced a transportation plan that would raise an estimated $796 million in new revenue in 2016. That would rise to $1.09 billion in 2017, $1.109 billion in 2018 and $1.125 billion in 2019.

Proposed revenue streams for the Senate DFL plan include a 6.5 percent sales tax on gas at the wholesale level, transportation-related fee increases, a 1 cent metro-area sales tax increase for transit projects, and general obligation bonds.

The governor’s office said Tuesday that more than half of Minnesota’s roads are more than 50 years old, 40 percent of the state’s bridges are more than 40 years old, and nearly 40 percent of Minnesota’s roads will be past their useful life in the next 10 years.

Dayton’s project list is based on recommendations from MnDOT, with consideration given to preventive maintenance, roads in urgent need of repair, projects that provide longer-term fixes rather than temporary repairs, and investments in key freight routes.

The list does not include projects which would be funded by the nearly $2.4 billion that Dayton has proposed for cities, counties and townships. It would be up to local municipalities to choose how that money would be spent, the governor’s office said.

As previously reported, Dayton’s 10-year transportation proposal includes $5.38 billion for state highways and bridges, $2.356 billion for local government transportation projects, $2.8 billion for Twin Cities mass transit, and $120 million for Greater Minnesota transit.

Rep. Tim Kelly, a Red Wing Republican who chairs the House Transportation Policy and Finance Committee, told reporters last month that he wasn’t in any rush to put together a long-term transportation funding plan.

“I think it’s irresponsible to create a long-term plan if we don’t understand and agree with what the need is,” Kelly said at the time. He wasn’t immediately available for comment Tuesday.

The Transportation Finance Advisory Committee, convened in 2012 by Dayton, said the state faces a $6 billion state highway transportation deficit over the next 10 years.

Dayton’s plan would be paid for with a 6.5 percent gross receipts tax on gasoline, an increase (from the current 1.25 percent to 1.50 percent) in the base tax on vehicle registration fees, and a $10 increase in car registration fees, according to the governor’s office.

In addition, MnDOT would be required to generate efficiencies of 15 percent on all new revenue. The efficiencies would allow $5.38 billion in new funding to create $6 billion worth of work.

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