HEINZMAN EDIT: dangerous state highway intersections need fixing

Local units of government have dangerous state highway intersections to
fix, but the Minnesota Department of Transportation Mn.DOT doesn’t have
the dollars to leverage federal funds to get the jobs done.

While city and county officials struggle to scrape up funds to correct
“killer” intersections, state legislators wrangle over how to get more
funds in politically-charged debates. The case comes down to either
increasing a combination of taxes, noteably the gas tax, or borrowing
money by selling bonds, as proposed by Governor Tim Pawlenty.


Local units of government have dangerous state highway intersections to fix, but the Minnesota Department of Transportation Mn.DOT doesn’t have the dollars to leverage federal funds to get the jobs done.

While city and county officials struggle to scrape up funds to correct “killer” intersections, state legislators wrangle over how to get more funds in politically-charged debates. The case comes down to either increasing a combination of taxes, noteably the gas tax, or borrowing money by selling bonds, as proposed by Governor Tim Pawlenty.

Case in point is Anoka County where an intersection with the most fatalities is at State Highway 242 and State Highway 65. Cost of rebuilding that intersection is close to $50 million. Of that amount the City of Blaine will pay $2.1 million, Turnback funds will be $12,500, Anoka County, $8.5 million, Federal government $9.1 million with MnDot paying $755,000. If all that funding comes, construction will begin this year.

Anoka County Board Chair Dennis Berg hopes MnDOT will have its share. He’s not holding his breath.

He contends MnDOT is broke and is living off borrowed money. He points to the funding for the reconstruction of the Hanson Bridge over State Highway 10 which is costing $23,642,000. To do this project and levy the $6.094 million in federal money, Anoka county is borrowing $6.5 million to MnDOT at no interest to 2011. The city of Coon Rapids must pay $3 million up front, the County, $7,447,000 and Hooley Development, $601,000.

The construction engineering and inspection cost of $1.2 million, which was to have been paid by MnDOT is being paid by Anoka County because MnDOT doesn’t have the funds.

Because MnDOT doesn’t have the funds to do the basic projects it has to delay one project to finance another. For example, MnDOT will take $35 million from a project to improve the three way junction of Highway 169, County Road 81 and 85th Avenue in Brooklyn Park (Devils Triangle.) These funds will be used to keep the funding going for the Crosstown project of merging TH62 with I 35-W.

Governor Pawlenty who threatens to veto a gas tax, prefers to sell more bonds and pay the interest. Pawlenty’s funding package for transportation included $400 million in bonds requiring $200 million to be paid in
interest as part of the 2003 transportation package.

This session Pawlenty is proposing a $1.7 billion in bonding that will cost interest of $850 million. The bonds are issued over the life of the program and are paid back over a 20-year period after the bonds are issued.

The Anoka county highway scenario is repeated in counties throughout the Twin Cities Metropolitan area. City’s are using their property tax dollars to aid counties to provide road improvement funds; counties are using their dollars to leverage state and federal funds.

There’s a good chance millions of federal funds will be lost to highway and transit improvements because MnDOT doesn’t have the matching funds. The gas tax of 20 cents per gallon last passed in 1988 is worth 12 cents per gallon purchasing power. The Minnesota Transportation Alliance reports that maintaining funding levels until the end of fis all 2007 could lead to some projects being postponed.

Meanwhile, an impatient driving public continues to list traffic congestion as one of its biggest concerns. If this legislature fails to provide adequate funding to maintain existing roads, highways and bridges, look for voters to ride some of them out of office in the next election.

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