Public comment period ends July 31. Public hearing July 29 at 4 PM.
By Barb Thoman, Executive Director
What highway investments will contribute to a prosperous future for Minnesota? How much should be spent to maintain existing pavements and bridges, retrofit streets to improve safety for everyone, and add transit infrastructure to highway corridors? What is the additional transportation funding Minnesota needs and how can it be raised without unduly burdening low-income Minnesotans?
MnDOT recently released its draft State Highway Investment Plan (MnSHIP), which seeks to address questions like these. With current projected revenues, MnDOT will have approximately $8 billion to invest over the first ten years of the plan and $10 billion for the second decade. These revenues are generated primarily from the state gas tax, vehicle registration fees, motor vehicle sales tax and federal funds. They are separate from allocations to counties, cities, and townships.
Image credit: MnDOT
The investment percentages shown below are for the first ten years of the twenty-year plan. Overall, TLC applauds the focus on maintenance, safety, and bicycle and pedestrian travel, and the reduction in emphasis on highway expansion. This allocation reflects recent trends in travel behavior (i.e. less driving) and growing demand for alternatives to driving (see pg. ES-10 of the draft plan). The draft plan also features much clearer investment categories—nine in all—and greater specificity in all areas of the plan.
Image credit: Metropolitan Council
1 and 2. Pavements and bridges (59% of investment). Minnesota must maintain a large and aging system of pavements and bridges. Our state has the nation’s fifth-largest roadway system (141,000 miles in total with 12,000 miles owned by MnDOT). The Twin Cities metro area has the eighth-largest regional highway system (in lane miles per person). Projected investment levels are not adequate to keep up with maintenance needs, especially on the secondary system of state-owned corridors. MnDOT identifies an unmet need for maintenance of $4 billion over 20 years. TLC supports greater investment in maintenance to meet the agency’s repair targets.
3. Project Support (11% of investment). This category includes right-of-way purchases, consultant fees, and contractor incentives. Project support (program delivery) is slated to receive a significant percentage of investments. Including these costs, to the extent possible, with corresponding projects (such as pavements, mobility, safety, etc.) would provide greater transparency and accountability.
4. Roadside infrastructure (9% of investment). This category includes culverts, traffic signals, noise walls, signage, drainage systems, pavement markings, and even rest areas. These investments maintain safety and system integrity, reduce impacts on the environment, and improve quality of life.
5. Twin Cities mobility (7% of investment). The draft plan projects $520 million in highway expansion projects and high-occupancy toll lanes over ten years. This investment category is greatly reduced—as we think it should be—over what it has been for the last four decades. An aging population, less growth at the metro region’s edges, young people driving less, and the need to address climate change and equity, all signal the need to reduce spending on highway expansion.
The draft plan budgets for completion of the widening project/MnPass lanes on I-35E north of downtown Saint Paul; the completion of TH-610 west to I-94; the construction of MnPass lanes on I-94 between downtown Minneapolis and Saint Paul; and the construction of MnPass lanes on I-35W North from Minneapolis to Highway 10.
6. Regional and Community Improvement Priorities (7 % of investment). This category addresses regional or community priorities in Greater Minnesota, including conversion of two-lane state highways to four-lane divided highways, intersection changes, drainage projects, main street projects and other projects that address local safety, economic development, or quality of life.
TLC believes that complete street retrofits—especially in communities where a rural or suburban main street is a trunk highway—should receive additional attention and investment.
7. Traveler Safety (4% of investment). While safety is a part of all construction projects, this category includes independent installation of rumble strips, lighting, cable median barriers to prevent head on crashes, and other spending on what MnDOT calls “lower cost, high benefit” projects.
8 and 9. Access by walking and bicycling (3 % of investment). For the first time, MnDOT’s draft plan makes improved access by bicycling and walking a clear priority. TLC strongly supports this! Bicycling and walking are healthy, low cost, and environmentally friendly modes of transportation. Many people cannot drive— due to age, ability, or because they simply can’t afford to own a car—and they deserve a full quality of life. TLC would like to see faster progress than what the draft plan proposes on the expansion of safe, accessible facilities for walking and bicycling.
We remind the few people who still erroneously argue that bicyclists and pedestrians don’t pay transportation taxes that most people who walk and bicycle also own a car. And those who do not are likely paying more than their fair share for local roads through local property taxes
The funding gap. The draft plan states that the funding gap over the next 20 years is $12 billion, or $600 million annually (equivalent to a 20-cent gas tax increase). If additional revenue is raised, TLC would like to see greater investment in pavements and bridges, safety, and community priorities, especially complete streets and flood prevention projects. Given the recent decade-long plateau in car travel, and the competitive advantage of regions with expanded transportation options, we seriously question the use of new funding for the additional highway expansion projects proposed on page 58 of the draft plan.
What the draft plan is missing:
- Targets for reducing car travel (i.e. VMT) on the state highway system.
- Ambitious mode share goals for trips by transit, bicycling, and walking as required by state law.
- Discussion of the health impacts of proximity to high traffic corridors, which have high levels of harmful emissions and noise.
- Discussion of the impacts that road construction and runoff from roads have on land and water quality.
- A better description of traffic congestion in the Twin Cities. (Referencing the 2012 Texas Transportation Institution Urban Mobility Report, page 44 of the draft plan leads the reader to believe that the Twin Cities metro region has above average levels of traffic congestion, stating, “The Twin Cities area was ranked the seventh most congested of 32 metropolitan areas of similar size in 2010.” As we have written in a previous blog, a closer reading of the Urban Mobility Report finds that the Twin Cities is the 16th largest metropolitan area in the U.S. but has only the 25th worst traffic congestion. In fact, we are the largest of the 32 “large” metropolitan areas referenced and thus are not “similar in size.”)
Comment on the plan. A public hearing on the draft plan is scheduled for July 29 at 4 PM (MnDOT Central Office, 395 John Ireland Blvd., Room G15, Saint Paul) and public comment will be accepted until Wednesday, July 31. TLC encourages its members to review and comment on the plan. Recommended talking points:
- Applaud MnDOT for prioritizing, and directing funds, to improved bicycle and pedestrian access.
- Encourage MnDOT to explicitly convey to the public the recent dramatic changes in travel trends (VMT flat for a decade after a century of growth) that have critical implications for the allocation of transportation funds into the foreseeable future.
- Encourage Mn/DOT to explicitly direct federal highway funds to key transit expansion projects in highway corridors.