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Minnesota road costs jump as lawmakers debate how to pay for it

Fixing and expanding Minnesota's roads will cost billions of dollars more than the Minnesota Department of Transportation estimated two years ago, MnDOT officials now say.

Fixing and expanding Minnesota's roads will cost billions of dollars more than the Minnesota Department of Transportation estimated two years ago, MnDOT officials now say.

The new estimate predicts $16.3 billion in unfunded road costs over the next 20 years. The 20-year projection made two years ago estimated a $12.5 billion funding gap.

That 30 percent increase comes as lawmakers in both parties say fixing Minnesota's roads is a top priority. But huge differences about how to pay for that cost stymied all attempts at a deal when the Legislature met this year. The increased price tag could make compromise even more elusive when lawmakers return in 2016.

Since 2012, MnDOT officials have raised the projected cost of "an economically competitive transportation system" from $30.2 billion to $36.4 billion. That's partially offset by an increase in expected revenue for roads over that time from $17.7 billion to $20.1 billion. But the net effect is a projected funding gap $3.8 billion larger.

The state's experts say several factors have caused the higher costs since 2013, including inflation, the continued deterioration of Minnesota's aging roads and better data about the full cost of road repairs.


State Rep. Tim Kelly, R-Red Wing and the chair of the House Transportation Policy and Finance Committee, said the higher projections are flawed and that they would make it harder for lawmakers to reach consensus.

"This newfound 'data' will turn this discussion back to a disparity in need issue once again," Kelly said in a statement.

"So instead of allowing us to come together on funding sources for the next 10 years we will be wasting time discussing the overall long-term need for decades into the future."

Kelly accused MnDOT of putting out a "wish list" instead of a real projection of need and said the department "has clearly become the problem and certainly not part of the solution."

Charles Zelle, MnDOT's commissioner, defended the projections in a release.

"Our planning process is thorough and objective," Zelle said. "It is clearly indicating that the growth in revenue will not meet what we need to spend to provide a competitive system by 2037."

Kelly's Senate counterpart, Democratic-Farmer-Labor Sen. Scott Dibble of Minneapolis, was more accepting.

"It's logical," Dibble said of the updated MnDOT projection. "I don't think it's anything different than what the DOT has been talking about all along, that there is a cost to delayed action in the form of inflation and increasing deterioration."


Contrary to Kelly, Dibble said he didn't think the higher figure would impede legislative consensus.

Earlier this year, DFLers proposed adding a new tax on gasoline to raise $6 billion over 10 years for the state's roads. Republicans rejected a gas tax increase out of hand and instead proposed dedicating existing revenue sources to road funding, though their total spending over 10 years was several billion dollars lower than DFLers'.

Since lawmakers adjourned for the year in June, Dibble and Kelly have talked several times about transportation funding. Both men said they feel they're making progress toward a compromise but haven't reached a deal yet.

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