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Put simply: our broken roads are broke!

By Christopher N. Shoff
As the 2015 session finally came to a close last week, the Legislature was once again unable to come to agreement on a comprehensive transportation bill. This has become an annual disappointment for the members of the Association of Minnesota Counties (AMC).
Freeborn County Engineer Sue Miller’s 7-year-old daughter might have said it best, “Our Broken Roads are Broke!” Out of the mouths of babes comes something so profound, and such a simple summary of the situation. “Our Broken Roads are Broke!”
During my time as a Freeborn County commissioner, I have served on the AMC Transportation & Infrastructure Policy Committee as well as the National Association of Counties (NACo) Transportation Steering Committee.  Transportation is the tie that binds: everyone is affected; everyone has a different idea for a solution; and everyone benefits, but no one wants to pay!
In Freeborn County, we have a $4 million to $6 million dollar yearly deficit to build and maintain our current transportation system. In Freeborn County, through diligent work, we only have a few deficient bridges. That is not the case in other areas. All across Minnesota, counties are struggling to maintain their current system. Metro counties are struggling to keep up with growing demands on their transportation network. Fifty percent of Minnesota’s roads are over 50 years old. Forty percent of Minnesota’s bridges are over 40 years old. Minnesota is home to the nation’s fifth-largest highway system but the condition of that system ranks in the nation’s bottom third.
Transportation should transcend political ideologies. Transportation should transcend election cycles. Last year, while our roads and bridges fell further into disrepair, the governor and Legislature refused to tackle transportation. Last fall, in every district of AMC across the state, transportation continued to be one of our key legislative priorities.
The governor and Legislature set transportation as a priority for the 2015 legislative session. All through the session, transportation was used as a wedge between various groups with no funding solution accomplished. AMC and our other local government partners have tried to demonstrate to our state leadership that we are committed to having constructive conversations about this issue so that we can work towards a Minnesota transportation funding system that is comprehensive, balanced, sustainable, and dedicated.
Years ago, I remember my dad’s family from Missouri coming to visit us in Minnesota. My cousin told me that they knew that they had crossed the border into Minnesota because of the great condition of our roads. Sue Miller’s 7-year-old daughter described our current system in her words, “Our Broken Roads are Broke!” My hope is that children will not have to be so brutally honest about this same problem in the future because someday soon we will once again move the Minnesota transportation system into a place where it earns the admiration of others.
Christopher N. Shoff is a Freeborn County Commissioner and the 2015 president of the Association of Minnesota Counties (AMC) Minnesota.