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Legislature invests in road safety and economy

This week, the Legislature delivered on its promise to make improving the state's economy the top priority of the legislative session. By passing an investment in our state's transportation infrastructure, we are not only addressing the safety ne...

This week, the Legislature delivered on its promise to make improving the state's economy the top priority of the legislative session. By passing an investment in our state's transportation infrastructure, we are not only addressing the safety needs of our state's roads and bridges, but following the advice of the State Economist by strategically investing in our future economic success. This transportation package not only has the potential to create 33,000 jobs a year for the next five years, but provides the resources to improve our infrastructure and incent long-term economic development.

The transportation package passed by the Legislature will invest $6.6 billion into our transportation system over the next 10 years.

Granted, with an estimated funding shortage of $2.4 billion a year, this bill does not meet the full needs facing our infrastructure. It does, however, provide a great first step in providing the resources needed to get our state moving forward.

By partnering with the business community and realizing we shared the goal of a transportation system that allows goods and services to efficiently get to market and attracts economic development, we were able to advance this reasonable investment with the support of the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce for the first time. Having the business community on board allowed us to secure bipartisan votes in both bodies of the Legislature.

The bill recognizes that there are needs at all levels of our transportation system, local roads to trunk highways to transit systems, and carefully allocates resources into all of these areas. Of the total investment provided by the package, 52 percent will go towards the state trunk highways, 30 percent will support county and local road projects, and 18 percent will enhance transit services in the metropolitan area and Greater Minnesota.

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Appropriately, a major component of this legislation is bridge safety.

The bill provides $600 million in the first two years to address 13 fracture-critical trunk highway bridges. A Trunk Highway Bridge Improvement Program is also established to ensure that Minnesota's bridges are addressed according to their safety needs. This program will rank bridges into tiers according to their safety ratings and require that the state's most unsafe bridges are contracted to be fixed or replaced by 2018.

The non-partisan Legislative Auditor recently issued a report that found that Minnesota's roads have deteriorated over the past five years, and would continue to become less safe unless there was an increase in transportation resources. This administration has funded transportation through bonds, which cannot be used on road upkeep, only construction projects. Due to the shortage of real transportation dollars, Mn/DOT has been rendered unable to keep up with the maintenance and safety needs of our roads. This legislation provides the steady funding that the Department needs to preserve our current roads and deliver on new construction.

In addition to raising revenues, this bill provides tax relief. The lowest income bracket will receive $25 income tax credit to offset the increase in the gas tax. Also, by increasing the state's investment in county highways and city roads, we are reducing the property tax burden on home and business owners. Since the mid-1990s, Minnesota has seen property taxes increase by $1 billion per year just for local transportation projects.

In the end, this investment in transportation will yield great returns for Minnesotans. It provides a great first step in improving the safety and efficiency of our transportation system, as well as laying the groundwork for sustainable economic growth. A bipartisan group of legislators and the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce stand behind this transportation package, yet, with his veto, the Governor continues to display his unwillingness to compromise. I'm hopeful that this cooperation between legislators and the business community will continue and the Governor's irresponsible veto can be overridden.

State Senator Tony Lourey can be contacted at 651-296-0293, sen.tony.lourey@senate.mn , or 205 State Capitol, St. Paul, MN 55155.

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