Statewide View: Walz wise to prioritize Minnesota's aging infrastructure
When I bought my first car, my father instilled in me a "take care of your car and it will take care of you" mentality — meaning maintenance was key. Car washes, oil changes, and tire rotations were all crucial to keep my car, my freedom, in good working condition. Despite my diligence, though, the car eventually succumbed to wear and tear. Eventually the time came to give up a rust bucket with 300,000 miles, a cassette player, and parts held together by duct tape, especially after I got married and my wife's needs became mine. I needed something safer.
The story of my first car is not unlike that of Minnesota's infrastructure systems. We rely on roads, bridges, and mass transit to get places; but pieces wear out, technology improves, and systems need updates and regular maintenance. Eventual replacement is inevitable, especially to accommodate changing needs and growing populations.
In October 2018, the Minnesota Section of the American Society of Civil Engineers released the first-ever Report Card for Minnesota's Infrastructure, which graded our state's infrastructure systems a mediocre "C." Civil engineers from around the state assessed and graded roads, bridges, transit, ports, airports, drinking water, wastewater, energy, and dams. The report card had some bright spots, with a high grade of "B" for aviation, but it also had a number of categories that require work, including roads, which earned a "D+," and transit, which earned a "C-."
For too long, Minnesota has benefitted from the investments made by previous generations while deferring too much of the maintenance and replacement costs to the next. It is an inconvenience and a public-safety hazard when sewers backup, water mains burst, or dams collapse. Think of the water main burst under I-694 in Oakdale, Minn., that suddenly impacted thousands of commuters for 10 rush hours in December 2017.
Thankfully, Gov. Tim Walz is on a mission to catch up on maintenance and raise the mediocre grades. Gov. Walz's proposed budget calls for stepping up investments by $13 billion in surface transportation and staying the course for other infrastructure systems examined in the report card. His proposal is an impressive start to infrastructure investment that is being deliberated by the state Legislature.
When infrastructure degrades, officials face difficult choices, such as permanently closing unsafe bridges, converting failing pavement back to gravel roads, and curtailing services of the 56 transit systems operating across Minnesota. These sorts of choices are disproportionately felt in less-populated areas and are avoidable if the legislative process finds the compromises necessary to raise the grades.
It's time we invest in infrastructure like the critical network it is and treat it with the same care we showed our first cars. Gov. Walz can be thanked for prioritizing infrastructure investment, and the American Society of Civil Engineers looks forward to seeing continued support for his proposal as it moves through the Legislature.
Jason Staebell of Savage, Minn., is president of the American Society of Civil Engineers, Minnesota Section.