Minnesota needs a long-term transportation fix — now

Published 10:06 am Tuesday, March 10, 2015

On April 12, 2015, our father and father-in-law will celebrate his 92nd birthday. Lewis W. Brown was raised during the Great Depression, served his country in the Army Air Corp during World War II, worked 34 years as a mechanic for DuPont Cellophane Co., retired and started his own political button company. He is a member of what has been named The Greatest Generation.

Joseph E. Brown, Sr.

Joseph E. Brown, Sr.

Lewis never had a credit card, paid his bills on time with cash, paid his taxes with a smile and has voted in every local, state and national election since 1946.  The Greatest Generation paid for wars with real time money, experienced the largest growth of American cities and built an interstate highway system. Of course this was 60 years ago.

We wonder what the future will label our generation? Will we be known as the Freeloader, Gimme, Pass the Buck Generation or will we be called the Responsible, Pragmatic, Visionary Generation? The choice is ours.

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Currently the Minnesota Legislature is discussing the road use tax fund (gas tax). We get a kick out of opinion polls that show that the majority of Minnesotans are opposed to raising the gas tax, yet they want the safe roads and bridges that gas taxes pay for.  The gas tax is a user fee, which means you only pay it if you actually use our roads and bridges.

Our neighboring state to the south, Iowa, just passed a gas tax increase of 10 cents per gallon with a bipartisan vote of the Republican-controlled House and the Democratic-controlled Senate. The conservative six-term Republican Gov. Terry Branstad has agreed to sign the bill into law.

Robin Brown

Robin Brown

Minnesota has serious transportation problems:

50 percent of state highway pavements are more than 50 years old.

35 percent of state highway bridges are more than 50 years old.

Minnesota ranks 38th of 50 for interstate pavement condition.

There is definitely work that needs to be done and we can do it. Consider the following:

If a person travels 30,000 miles a year in a vehicle that gets 25 miles per gallon, the increased gas tax would cost $120 per year.  This equates to 33 cents per day or $10 per month. This is cheaper than replacing one tire.

If a person travels 10,000 miles a year in a vehicle that gets 20 miles per gallon, the increased gas tax would cost $50 per year.  This equates to 14 cents per day or $4.16 per month. This is cheaper than one car alignment. It is actually much cheaper to fix our roads and bridges than it is to allow them to continue to fall into disrepair.

Gov. Dayton has proposed a comprehensive plan to fix our roads and bridges over the next 10 years with a new gas tax and higher vehicle registration fees, dedicating billions of dollars for long-term transportation spending. Estimations indicate Minnesota needs $10 billion over 10 years for roads, bridges and transit.

Whether  we are traveling to work, taking our children to school, accessing health care, moving our agricultural products to market, going north to fish, driving to a Twins, Vikings or Wild game (insert favorite cultural experience here) or shopping at the Mall of America, Minnesota depends on a safe transportation network.

Minnesotans know the importance of a reliable transportation system. Maybe pollsters simply have not been asking the right questions. Questions like:

Do you want to drive on safe roads and bridges?

Do you believe we should repair our bridges before they collapse?

Should repairs be made in a timely and cost-effective manner?

Who is responsible to pay for current road and bridge repair? Our children? Our grandchildren?

Finally, safe roads and bridges should never be a partisan issue.  A safe and reliable transportation system is good for families, business and agriculture. We need a long-term solution to our transportation infrastructure — now.  The safety of our citizens and our economy is too important to kick the can down the road one more year.


Joseph E. Brown Sr. and Robin Brown are educators, former state legislators, and residents of Moscow Township.