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Dayton: $6 billion would buy 607 road, bridge projects in Minnesota

ST. PAUL -- Gov. Mark Dayton produced 607 reasons why he thinks Minnesota should raise and spend $6 billion over 10 years to upgrade the state's roads and bridges.

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Maps showing more than 600 road and bridge projects surround Minnesota Transportation Commissioner Charlie Zeller, left, and Gov. Mark Dayton on Tuesday, Feb. 17, 2015, as they announce where $6 billion could be spent. (Forum News Service photo by Don Davis)

ST. PAUL -- Gov. Mark Dayton produced 607 reasons why he thinks Minnesota should raise and spend $6 billion over 10 years to upgrade the state's roads and bridges.

On Tuesday, he released a list of 607 projects across the state that he said would not be built if his proposal is rejected.

Dayton broke with a long-standing tradition that governors not release a list of road and bridge projects before legislators pass a funding bill when he and Transportation Commissioner Charlie Zelle stood amid maps outlining projects throughout the state .

"If we don't follow this path, then we are going to see a significant deterioration of Minnesota's highways, roads and bridges, as well as its transit system," Dayton said in promoting his transportation proposal, funded by adding a new gasoline tax, higher vehicle registration fees and an expanded Twin Cities sales tax for transit.

Dayton said that his plan would allow 2,200 miles of state roads and 330 bridges to be repaired, replaced and expanded. The governor's plan would be on top of more than $7 billion the state already plans to be spent by 2024.

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Zelle said that in the past few years borrowed money funded many of the road and bridge improvements, but the state is bumping up against the transportation borrowing limit so new funding is needed. Dayton's transportation funding plan centers on a new 6.5 percent fuel tax.

Without the added $6 billion, Dayton said, "it will be just trying to keep pace with deteriorating conditions and handling the worse repairs."

By releasing the 607 projects that likely would be funded by the new money, Dayton puts pressure on legislators to support his plan.

The governor's proposal and one by Democrats who control the Senate are similar, but the Republican-controlled House has brought forth a much smaller bill until lawmakers have time to further study transportation needs.

Chairman Tim Kelly, R-Red Wing, of the House transportation committee said that his smaller bill is not a long-term solution. He has said that the full House will come later this legislative session, which must end May 18. Most Republicans have said they do not think taxes need to increase to fund transportation.

“The strategy of providing everything to everyone is unfortunate,” Kelly said of the Dayton proposal. “I don’t even think there is one project that isn’t on the list.”

Zelle said that 72 percent of the projects in the Dayton plan would be in greater Minnesota. However, Twin Cities projects usually are much more expensive and Zelle's staff could not produce a comparison of spending between the two areas.

Cities, counties and townships would receive $2.4 billion over the next 10 years in the Dayton plan, on top of the $6 billion for state roads and bridges.

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Zelle said the state would save money if it supported the Dayton plan.

"It becomes much more expensive dealing with deterioration the longer we wait," the commissioner said.

Zelle added that the Dayton plan would not produce a world-class road and bridge improvement program and many projects that may be needed still could not be afforded.

The most expensive project on the list probably is upgrading Interstate 94 between the downtowns of Minneapolis and St. Paul, Zelle said.

The Dayton plan would fully fund the much-discussed rerouting of U.S. 53 around an expanding taconite mine in northeastern Minnesota. Zelle said that $60 million now is available for the project, but up to three times that much is needed.

Projects on the list are the Minnesota Department of Transportation's priorities now, but things could change, Zelle said. If an unexpected need for transportation funding arises, he said, money may need to be pulled from other projects.

The St. Paul Pioneer Press, a Forum News Service media partner, contributed to this story.

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