Extra $18B needed to prevent 'dire' future for Minnesota's roads

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$39 billion. That's how much transportation officials predict Minnesota needs to spend on road upgrades over the next 21 years. $21 billion. That's how much is available.

That means Minnesota is facing a budget gap of $18 billion that needs to be plugged if the state's highways are to be of sufficient quality to handle future congestion, business needs and growth in the coming decades.

The figure, revealed this week in an updated version of the Minnesota Department of Transportation's 20-year State Highway Investment Plan (MnSHIP), is $6 billion more than forecast just two years ago.

The reason for the shortfall, MnDOT's Kevin Gutknecht told KSTP, is inaction at legislative level, with state lawmakers finding it difficult to come to agreements on transportation packages.

"Over the last four years, we haven't done anything to address the funding problems that we have," Gutknecht said to KSTP, before painting a picture of a "dire" future for Minnesota roads if the extra funding isn't found, with existing roads getting rougher, no new roads built to cope with growing population, and congestion getting worse.

MnDOT has released a table showing where the investment is needed between now and 2037 – with more than a quarter of it needed to improve road surfaces.

If funding stays at current levels, the projected $21 billion, MnDOT predicts that the percentage of interstate pavement considered to be in "poor" condition will rise from 1.9 percent currently to 4 percent, and the amount of national highway system roads considered "poor" will rise from 3 percent currently to 8 percent.

The condition of state bridges and culverts will also worsen, and there would be less safety investment in areas known to have high numbers of crashes.

There would also be an impact for bikers as well, with $580 million required to improve the state's bicycle infrastructure but only $140 million expected to be made available.

Not only will this reduce the amount of new bike lanes and pathways opening up across the Twin Cities and beyond, it will mean the existing network in place will deteriorate.

You can read the executive summary of the MnSHIP here. MnDOT will be holding a public session in St. Paul on Oct. 6, and is calling for feedback from state residents as to what its transportation priorities should be. You can find out more here.

The latest transportation funding package has been held up by disagreements over the inclusion of funding for the extension of the Twin Cities light rail system, which GOP lawmakers oppose but DFL lawmakers and Gov. Mark Dayton want to pass.

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