Road Report: A Survey of Minnesota's County Highway Engineers
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Despite sharp increases in property taxes for transportation, the condition of most county roads and bridges across Minnesota has deteriorated in recent years, a new Minnesota 2020 survey of county engineers shows.
The engineers are responsible for 45,000 miles of roads, one-third of Minnesota's entire network and nearly four times more extensive than the state trunk highway system, which gets twice as much state user funding. Their survey responses paint a dismal picture of vital but aging transportation infrastructure losing ground to steep increases in materials costs, heavier traffic demands and decades of inadequate public investment.
- County roads in Minnesota comprise 45,000 centerline miles, one-third of the entire state network and nearly four times as extensive as trunk highways, which get twice as much state user funding.
- Nearly three-quarters of county engineers surveyed say the roads and bridges they maintain have deteriorated in the past decade as costs and traffic demands have risen while state support has stagnated.
- The falloff in county road and bridge quality and safety has persisted despite a doubling of local property taxes dedicated to roads and bridges in 10 years, to an estimated $1.6 billion in 2006.
- Counties also have done unprecedented borrowing, reduced road maintenance and snow plowing, and closed routes.
- 4% of county engineers surveyed say they have even returned 20th century paved roads to 19th century style gravel or dirt roads.
- New state-level road and bridge financing enacted this year over Gov. Tim Pawlenty's veto will ease the situation somewhat, but "not enough to make a real difference." More than 92 percent of county engineers surveyed said the revenue increases won't allow them to meet their transportation goals.
- The state should adopt recommendations of the Minnesota County Engineers Association, particularly:
- Inflation indexing of the gasoline tax, which lost nearly half its buying power in the 20 years between the two most recent increases.
- Authority for counties to levy annual wheelage taxes of up to $20 per vehicle for roads and bridges.
- Some form of road impact fees to defray a fair share of the actual costs of real estate development and heavier truck traffic on county roads.
- Increased state general obligation bonding to repair or replace aging local bridges.