Fiscal constraints force road project delays in District 8

West Central Tribune / Tom Cherveny on March 12, 2019 at 6:52 a.m. 

GRANITE FALLS — The Minnesota Department of Transportation had plans to repair concrete pavement problem spots this coming year on roads throughout the southwestern counties managed by the District 8 office in Willmar, but fiscal constraints have forced the work to be delayed to 2024.

There are other projects originally proposed for this year that are being delayed for a year or more as well, including work on U.S. Highway 59 near the Murray and Cottonwood counties line; a portion of state Highway 4 north of Cosmos; and a section of U.S. Highway 212 in Glencoe.

Members of MnDOT District 8’s Southwest Area Transportation Partnership met Friday in Granite Falls to review road plans for the coming year, and reviewed those being delayed.

Lindsey Bruer, District 8 planner, told members of the partnership that the need to delay some projects is due to a variety of factors: The costs and scope of work needed for some of the other projects slated for next year have grown, while expected federal funds have been reduced and, of course, state funding has remained static.

The review came as District Engineer Jon Huseby outlined a proposal by Gov. Tim Walz to increase funding for transportation. “Most of the people in the room here are involved with transportation enough to realize our current funding levels barely enable us to maintain the system we have,” Huseby said as he outlined the plan.

The governor’s proposal calls for increasing the gas tax by 20 cents over the next two years. It would also index the gas tax to inflation.

​The governor is also proposing to increase the vehicle registration tax from 1.25 percent to 1.5 percent, change the base registration fee from $10 to $40, and change the depreciation schedule on vehicles.

The proposal also calls for increasing the sales tax on vehicle sales from 6.5 percent to 6.85 percent.

All together, the proposed changes are projected to increase revenues for transportation by $10.8 billion over the next 10 years.

​Huseby noted that a recent analysis reviewed by the district’s Area Transportation Partnership showed that $18 billion in new revenues are needed in the next 20 years to maintain and operate the existing roads and bridges.

​Even if the Legislature were to approve all of the governor’s proposal, Huseby said the funding would not be there to complete hoped for expansions to state Highway 23 and U.S. Highway 212 as the District 8 Area Transportation Partnership has supported.

​Members of the partnership also used the meeting to congratulate Huseby on receiving the 2019 distinguished public leadership award from the Center for Transportation Studies of the University of Minnesota.

​Huseby told the members that when he returned to work in the transportation sector, traffic volume was the primary factor in determining how road funds were to be allocated. He told the partnership members that thanks to their help, he was able to bring together rural manufacturers, some of the largest of them being located in some of the smallest of towns, as part of the Minnesota freight advisory council. They successfully urged decision-makers to also factor in the importance and heavy load of freight traffic on rural roads.

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