Legislative session leaves many transportation challenges ahead
By Ken Buckeye, TFAC project manager
Minnesota is a great place to live, work, play, start a business and visit. We’re known for our innovation, medical technology, healthcare, arts and culture, strong economy and robust lifestyle. And our transportation system connects us to all of this.
Our system, however, faces serious challenges. Minnesota has more than 140,000 miles of highway, 4,000 miles of freight track, 20,000 bridges and nine ports. Much of this was built more than 40 or 50 years ago. Without added investment, bridge and pavement conditions statewide will decline, congestion will increase, local roads will suffer and demand for transit service will exceed supply.
At the direction of Gov. Mark Dayton, MnDOT facilitated a process involving legislators, civic leaders, businesses and the Metropolitan Council to consider the issues facing the state’s transportation system. The group, the Transportation Finance Advisory Committee, issued a comprehensive set of recommendations to the governor and the Legislature last December.
Although nearly all of the TFAC recommendations were considered during the 2013 legislative session, only two were enacted:
- Expand the option of the wheelage tax for 80 counties in Greater Minnesota, including raising the cap limit for all 87 counties; and
- Enable local option sales taxes (w/o referendum requirement) for transportation in 80 counties in Greater Minnesota.
While positive, these outcomes don’t go far enough to address the state’s looming transportation issues. Clearly, more work is needed.
Over the next 20 years, trucks will continue to carry the vast majority of freight — more than 430 million tons. Rail transport, which now accounts for 240 million tons of freight, will grow to 300 million. Air cargo will increase from 480,000 tons to 600,000 tons. During that same time period, Minnesota’s population is expected to grow by 900,000, and we expect to create more than 570,000 new jobs.
Congestion, the nemesis of the commuter, is expected to cause annual delays of 45 hours per person. Metro area transit ridership (which grew by 25 percent between 2002 and 2011), is expected to double by 2030 — along with the state’s population of senior citizens.
Clearly, as these facts indicate, we cannot stand still. Investing in our system must be a priority if we are to be competitive in the 21st century. We will continue to work to ensure that our system is ready and able to meet the future needs of Minnesotans.