Guest Column: What does infrastructure plan mean for Minnesota?
Published 8:45 pm Friday, August 13, 2021
Guest Column by Margaret Donahoe
Minnesotans rely on our system of roads, bridges, transit, rail, air, ports and bike and pedestrian infrastructure every day as we travel to places like work, school and health care services and as we benefit from the delivery of goods. Our state’s economy is directly impacted by the transportation system with agricultural, mining, forestry, health care and manufacturing industries all relying on modern highways and bridges to move products and people. That’s why the historic Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act passed by the U.S. Senate on a 69-30 bipartisan vote is so important for Minnesota.
With thousands of miles of roads, thousands of bridges, bus and rail systems all across the state, ports and waterways and airports that are aging while demand on these systems continues to increase, we’ve been falling behind in maintaining our state’s transportation system. We have important projects waiting to be built in critical corridors like I-94, I-35, I-494, TH169, US Highway 212, Highway 23 and Highway 8. MnDOT has estimated a funding gap of $18 billion over the next 20 years between available highway funding and the estimated repair and improvement needs.
Local governments are responsible for most of the miles of roadway in our state and there are local road projects totaling more than $500 million waiting for funding to improve safety and traffic flow.
Deficient bridges continue to be an issue in Minnesota. In the coming years, we’ll be facing a “bridge bubble” as major bridges like the Blatnik Bridge in Duluth need replacement. Hundreds of local bridges will fall into the deficient category in the coming years, straining local budgets if additional state and federal funds are not provided.
For Minnesota, the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act would provide critical federal dollars to help the state and local governments maintain and improve our transportation system. For roads and bridges, the bill would provide about $4.5 billion over five years for Minnesota and $302 million for bridge repair and replacement — an increase over the previous five-year plan known as the FAST Act of $1 billion. That level of funding will create new jobs in the design and construction industry and help our state recover from the pandemic.
For transit in Minnesota, the bill increases funding from levels from $121.6 million in 2021 to $172 million by 2026 — a total of $820 million over the coming five years. That would allow the state to provide much better transit service all across Minnesota and could help with new bus rapid transit lines that provide access to important destinations with modern, convenient transit service.
The Senate plan also includes additional funding for rail projects — both passenger rail and freight rail, funding for ports and waterways, aviation projects and funding to meet future needs like electric vehicle charging infrastructure as well as providing dollars to make our infrastructure more resilient as well as more equitable and sustainable for the future.
Passage of this major investment in our infrastructure in the Senate is key but the job is not done. The House of Representatives also needs to vote to support this five-year infrastructure plan and get a final bill to the President’s desk. The current surface transportation authorization act — the FAST Act — was passed back in 2015 and will expire Sept. 30. Enactment of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act will mean a new five-year plan will be in place that will allow needed projects to move ahead, ensuring more job creation, more economic development and a safer transportation system for all Minnesotans.
We urge all of our Minnesota congressional members to support this critical legislation, following the bipartisan work of the Senate in making compromises, and ensuring the bill is signed into law.
Margaret Donahoe is the executive director of the Minnesota Transportation Alliance.