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Transportation needs better means of funding

One doesn’t need to attend a transportation forum or a highway coalition meeting to learn that roads in our state are in a deplorable condition and rapidly declining, especially in outstate Minnesota.
One only needs to travel Highway 15 between Brownton and Winthrop, or Highway 212 east of Glencoe, to get a jaw-rattling reality check of just how much work our highways and roads really need.
On page 5, you’ll find a guest column from John Welle, president of the Minnesota County Engineers Association, advocating for both an increase in the fuel tax and an ongoing “inflationary” factor to help generate more revenue for roads.
While the fuel tax generates 33 percent more revenue than it did 10 years ago, it isn’t keeping up with the increased cost of maintaining and building roads.
At last week’s meeting of the McLeod County Board, Commissioner Ron Shimanski asked McLeod County Highway Engineer John Brunkhorst if the cost of bituminous — an oil-based product — was coming down as the result of the oil boom in the Dakotas that help bring gasoline prices down at the pump. Brunkhorst said the after-effect has yet to be felt in the construction industry. So while the price drops at the pump, the cost of bituminous is not coming down at a similar ratio.
And the fuel tax may not generate as much in the future as it has in the past. The tax is a set amount per gallon, and as cars become more fuel efficient (a good thing), consumers are buying less gas, which means less tax revenue.
We’re OK with consumer-driven taxes. If you use it, you ought to pay for it.
But we have to remember that roads are not just for drivers. They are our means for moving good services across our great country. They bring the food to our grocery stores and then to our tables. They bring clothing to department stores and then to our closets. Whether you ever get behind the wheel of a car or not, you benefit from our road system.
We need to take care of our roads because of their vital role in the economy of our nation, if for no other reason.
Not only do we need to revamp our methods for revenues, we need to look at ways to cut the cost of construction, whether it be grouping multiple projects in one area to get better bids, or eliminating prevailing wage stipulations, or finding more affordable materials for the construction and maintenance of our road system.
We need a major overhaul of funding for our road system, and we need it now. The growth of our economy is dependent on it.