Comprehensive solution for roads needed

Published 9:14 am Thursday, April 14, 2016

By Chris Shoff

With the legislative session nearing the halfway point, time is of the essence for legislators on both sides of the aisle to come together with a comprehensive transportation funding package.

As a Freeborn County commissioner, I see firsthand the challenges our area faces providing the public adequate transportation infrastructure. After the legislature in 2013 provided counties outside the metro with the option to enact a wheelage tax and a local option sales tax, our county was able to generate $1.8 million to fund transportation needs.Yet, even with this new additional revenue, we still have a large deficit to maintain our transportation system in Freeborn County.

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County Highway 4 is one of three deficient structures in our county without a funding source. Over 100 miles of paved Freeborn County highways in the next 10 years will be over 25 years of useful life and in need of funding — with 45 percent of those miles having no funding source available at this time.

Across the political spectrum and the various regions of our state, we all recognize that funding transportation is a key priority of government. Without adequate funding, we begin to struggle to provide the basic services for our communities.

First and foremost, transportation funding is critical to keeping the public safe. Every day, we rely on our roads and bridges to get us safely to our destination. In order to provide the accessibility and structural strength necessary for safe movement on our roads and bridges, we must first have sufficient funding.

As Minnesotans, we are all­ too­ familiar with the severe cold we experience during winter. While this bitter season is grueling for us, it also takes a toll on our infrastructure. The damage left behind by the cold, snow and ice not only punishes our infrastructure, but often leads to injury to our vehicles — resulting in expensive repairs for us.

Given the local and commercial traffic that moves through our county — particularly to and from Iowa — we also need a strong network of roads and bridges to help facilitate the flow of commerce. By making it easier for farm or commercial goods to get to market, we encourage more economic activity and job growth to our community and our state.

Last year, I served as the Association of Minnesota Counties president. As I travel and speak with other county commissioners throughout the state — whether from the metro or from Greater Minnesota — I find that we have much in common as it relates to our transportation needs. All of our communities across the state face challenges in funding roads, bridges and transit systems — which include bus services.

With the significant transportation needs throughout our state, we can no longer rely on funding through a piecemeal or regional approach. We cannot address the individual transportation challenges our county faces in isolation because the needs are real and unique throughout our state.

It is critical for the legislature to pass a statewide approach to transportation funding this session that funds roads, bridges and transit in a comprehensive, regionally balanced, sustainable and dedicated manner. Minnesota is home to the nation’s fifth largest highway system, yet the condition of that system ranks in the nation’s bottom third. With 50 percent of Minnesota’s roads being over 50 ­years- old and 49 percent of Minnesota’s bridges being over 40­ years old, we need a funding solution sooner than later.

I appreciate the respective efforts by Rep. Peggy Bennett and Sen. Dan Sparks to find a solution to our transportation needs over the past year. While I recognize there are differences as to the best way to fund transportation in our state, I am hopeful our legislators and their colleagues will find a consensus this session.

Freeborn County is blessed to have our Freeborn County Engineer Sue Miller, a past president ofthe National Association of County Engineers as well as a recipient of the National County Engineer of the Year Award. Sue’s daughter said it best when she said, “Our broken roads are broke!” While the state has given us some tools, that toolbox is incomplete.

Someday soon, we can put Minnesota’s transportation system into a place where it earns the admiration of others. We just need our legislators to seize the opportunity.


Christopher Shoff is the 4th District Freeborn County commissioner.