Letter: Time to invest in transportation
By John Brunkhorst, Minnesota County Engineers Association (MCEA) President, Hutchinson
Do you recall what you paid per gallon the last time you filled up? As most Minnesotans have been to the gas pump lately, they probably have noticed a price fluctuation each time they fill up. Price swings of 5 to 20 cents have not been uncommon. At least when the gas goes up more dollars are captured for rebuilding roads and bridges, right? Wrong.
Unfortunately, no matter what the price of gas or diesel, no additional money goes into the “highway fund” (which has a primary revenue source of a per-gallon fuel tax). The last time a stable increase in highway funding occurred was in 2008. The current buying power of the highway fund has diminished. Vehicles are getting more fuel-efficient and folks are driving less; both of which do not fit into the equation of raising revenue to fix our aging transportation infrastructure.
The need for additional investment into transportation is more evident than ever. MnDOT has stated that its revenues are not keeping up with demand, and its 20-year plan shows a huge funding gap. If you don’t believe this, get out and drive your local trunk highway. I bet it is in need of reconstruction or substantial rehabilitation. If it has had recent work, the odds are it was a short-term band-aid and not the sound long-term fix it should have had if the funding allowed. There is a similar bleak picture on the county side. Talk to your local county engineer and ask him or her how much the price of road construction or maintenance materials have gone up. You will hear a common theme for each of them — we are not able to build or maintain what we used to given our current budget.
The need is there. Commerce is demanding more 10-ton routes to get their goods to market, businesses want access to four- lane highways to be competitive, commuters are sick of sitting on freeway parking lots, and the list goes on.
The opportunity is at hand this year to help our Minnesota transportation system. A new funding package that will add much-needed revenue to the wilting highway fund is being considered at the Legislature. A major component of this package is a sales tax on wholesale fuel, which would tie the tax revenue to the average annual wholesale price of fuel.
This method of funding transportation makes sense because it allows the highway fund to fluctuate with the price of fuel, rather than being flat like the current gas tax. We understand that no one wants to pay additional taxes, but we also know people are sick of potholes, narrow unforgiving roads and sitting in congestion — all of which comes at a cost to the road users. Rather than turning to local property taxes to help fix substandard roads like more and more counties and cities are doing, wouldn’t it make sense to have a new dedicated stream of funding such as this go into the highway fund? For less than $2 per week, or the cost of your favorite beverage, we can all have safer, improved roads. That’s a lot cheaper than the cost of a front-end alignment or new tires.
Please contact your local legislator. Tell them it’s time to stop kicking the can down the road and make some sound investments in our transportation infrastructure. Our future generations are counting on it.