Editorial: Living within our means can be costly

Published 9:05 am Monday, September 27, 2010

As November nears, we’re beginning to hear a common refrain, “living within our means.” It’s usually said as a precursor to a rant about out-of-control government spending and cutting taxes.

Don’t get us wrong. It’s an excellent concept. We should stick to a budget and prioritize.

Yet on one particular issue, living within our means takes on special meaning.

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This past week, the Mankato Free Press ran a series of articles exploring why improvements to U.S. Hwy. 14 don’t even make the Minnesota Department of Transportation’s list of things to do in the next 20 years.

The reporting, which spanned several days, was a fantastic look not only at the same highway which runs through Winona, but at the sorry shape of MnDOT and financing for roads and bridges in the state.

For example, the reporting raises several key issues:

Why wouldn’t a highway with a fatality crash rate of almost a 100 percent more than a typical comparable roadway be on MnDOT’s priority list?

Why is Marshall, home to several large manufacturers, so isolated from interstate travel (it takes nearly 60 miles of two-lane travel to reach Interstate 90)?

Why has the state allowed the disparity between revenue and needed improvements over the past two decades to reach $50 billion?

Why do the larger Minnesota communities of Willmar, Marshall and Hutchinson, each defined as a significant micropolitan area, not have a four-lane highway?

This isn’t about lobbying for one project over another. This isn’t about fixing U.S. Hwy. 14.

It’s about priorities and funding.

It’s also asking the tough question, “How did Minnesota’s transportation needs get so bad?”

Fixing Minnesota’s roads and bridges is within our means, if lawmakers could muster the gumption to actually pay for the improvements.

It’s not that we can’t afford these necessary improvements; it’s that we don’t want to pay for them.

We agree with politicians. We do need to live within our means.

And we really mean living, not dying on the roads.

Now, it’s time to turn the tables on politicians who are telling us what we most want to hear, like those pledging to stop taxes.

Now, it’s time to have them listen to what we most need to know. Ask them what they’re going to do to make Minnesota roads and bridges safer. Ask them how many deaths on Minnesota’s roads and bridges are acceptable.

Roads and bridges obviously don’t come cheap.

But just ask the families and friends of the 25 people who perished how much they’d give to get their loved ones back.

— Winona Daily News. Sept. 20