Minn. Legislature: Rural roads a priority for transportation money
With only a few weeks left to go before the 2017 Legislative Session wraps up, we have a lot of work to do. I'm proud of my appointment to serve on the Transportation Conference Committee -- a joint and bipartisan group of House and Senate member...
With only a few weeks left to go before the 2017 Legislative Session wraps up, we have a lot of work to do. I'm proud of my appointment to serve on the Transportation Conference Committee - a joint and bipartisan group of House and Senate members who are tasked with hashing out a compromise bill both bodies of the Legislature can approve.
While the House and Senate have come to agreement on much, the larger hurdle will be coming to an agreement with Gov. Mark Dayton.
As the only Democratic-Farmer-Labor party senator selected to sit on the committee, I'm proud to be representing rural Minnesota. Our needs differ from the metro. I've been hearing a lot from the community about why road and bridge funding is so important.
From county commissioners to local cities and individuals, there are many people concerned about how we're going to pay to fix our local roads, make those repairs and, in some cases, replace aging bridges. These fixes are expensive, and the local tax base frequently can't afford to carry the full cost of repairs.
The House and Senate have an agreed upon a budget of $372 million for transportation investment over the next two years. While the money invested is not nearly enough, it is an acknowledgement of the great need for additional funding for our hundreds of thousands of miles of highway across the state.
More than half of Minnesota's roads are over 50 years old, and 40 percent of the state's bridges are more than 40 years old. In the next three years, one in five Minnesota roads will pass their useful life, making it increasingly difficult for Minnesota businesses to move their goods to market and for citizens to commute to and from work and school.
Minnesota farmers are well-versed in the need for improved roads. Poor road conditions can put a big strain on large machinery that must travel on rural roads. There is also a provision in this bill that increases the truck weight limits for milk trucks. I am supportive of this change, because milk trucks are required by law to pick up all milk in the tank and thus farmers will be able to transport their milk to market more efficiently. This also means that the change will save milk producers shipping costs that could be passed onto the consumer - giving us more affordable dairy products.
While it's important for us to be mindful of heavy truck traffic on our roads, I believe we can find a reasonable balance between farmers' needs and preserving the integrity of our roads.
Meanwhile as we approach a conclusion between House and Senate Republicans, Dayton has his own similar set of priorities for transportation. The governor reminds Minnesotans that the state is facing a $16 billion transportation funding gap over the next 20 years. To help close that gap, he's proposing new investments in the form of a gas tax. His budget proposal would go much further to repair or replace 1,700 miles of roads and 235 bridges, as well as an expansion of our current transit systems. This tax would also be a dedicated source of funding into the future.
I am very aware of the vast differences between the Legislature and the governor's visions for transportation funding. But we all have a shared belief - we all know our roads and bridges require money. We've all heard the statistic about the funding gap. Our differences lie in how to pay for road and bridge repairs.
Compromise means neither party gets exactly what they want. I am confident that the conference committees can work with the agency commissioners to find solutions for all Minnesotans. And I am hopeful for an agreement that brings increased investment for our roads and bridges that the Governor is willing to sign.