State highway improvement plan short on funding

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In about a month, MnDOT expects to release its final version of the 20-year State Highway Investment Plan (MnSHIP). I attended one of the MnDOT public meetings on the issue back in May. The state highway infrastructure funding outlook is grim, predicted to come up $12 billion short over the next generation.

Here’s the good news, the state is getting creative with the funding it projects will be available, and the focus has shifted from building more highways to better maintaining and managing existing infrastructure, with some emphasis on multi-modal transportation.

It’s important to note this plan covers infrastructure investments not everyday highway operation and maintenance such as snow plowing, pothole repair etc.

Also, the state highway system includes only about 8.5% or 12,000 miles of the total 141,000 roadways in Minnesota, but these roads carry about 60% of the total miles traveled as well as a majority of the freight traffic. MnDOT predicts about $30 billion in needs to maintain the highway system in five major areas: Asset Management, Traveler Safety, Critical Connections, Regional Community Improvements, and Project Support. Unfortunately, the plan also shows expected revenues of only $18 billion in the next 20 years, leading to the $12 billion funding gap.

Without more investment in the highway system in the next 20 years we see the following results:

Asset Management – MnDOT will maintain the National Highway System about 45% of state highway system, which includes interstates, US highways and principal arterials. However, the remaining 55% of the state highways will decline over this period.

Traveler Safety – Will focus on low cost, proactive treatments aimed at prevention of fatalities and serious injuries, but only for select locations with a sustained history of problems.

Critical Connections – The number and magnitude of capacity improvements will decline. Pedestrians and bicyclists will be accommodated, but only at priority locations

Regional and Community Improvement Priorities – Number and size of projects will not match stakeholder expectations.

The expected $18 billion in revenue comes from the State Trunk Highway Fund, which is funded through the following: State Fuel Tax -31% Vehicle Registration Tax -21% State Trunk Highway Bonds -9% Vehicle Sales Tax -8% Federal Aid (Federal Fuel Tax) -31%.

The first four are state taxes and are controlled by our state government. More than 60% of the revenues come from fuel taxes either state or federal. Americans pay some of the lowest fuel taxes in the world despite the complaints about the high fuel taxes.

What will our low taxes cost us in the long run. We will have decaying highway system that will not meet the needs of our growing population. The death and injury toll on our roads will climb. Rebuilding our deteriorating highways in the future will be more expensive than maintaining them today.
Minnesota has one of the strongest economies in the nation, but that will not continue if we do not invest in our transportation system. It is time to realize that if we want a good transportation system then we better be willing to pay for it.

Anyone interested in more detail on MnSHIP go to http://www.dot.state.mn.us/planning/mnship/investment.html