Driving County Roads

An on line journal sharing my views. The content reflects my background as a rural person employed in agriculture and as a retired elected official of local government.

Friday, May 04, 2007

PLAYING POLITICS WITH ROAD FUNDING

As the governor and legislators play political games, our local roads are falling apart. Nicollet County Highway Engineer, Mike Wagner updated the board yesterday about road needs and his deep concern for the condition of our county roads. The money is not coming from the proper funding source i.e. a gas tax. The county is looking at levying $1,000,000 (property tax dollars) for road funding in 2008. In the past the county has used the levy as well as bonding to pay for roads. This is not good public policy.

No New Money
We have not had an increase in the gas tax since 1988. This is the source of funding for local roads i.e. county, city, and township. Yes, each of these units of government has an obligation to spend some of their own levy dollars for roads. And that is exactly what we have been forced to do. Is this fair? Absolutely not! The property tax should not have to shoulder the whole burden for roads. Many people other than our own residents use the roads. A good example of this is Nicollet County number 5 or the Fort Road. We have truckers hauling rock from Morton on this road and we have many people driving west to Jackpot Casino using the road. And there are many other examples. The basic point is that the people who use the road should have a bigger responsibility to pay for it and that can only be done through a gas tax.

Rising Costs The funding has stayed flat since 1988. But the expenses have increased. Everything costs much more now: labor, fuel, product, right of way purchases etc. You simply can’t build a road or even maintain it with less and less resources. When resurfacing is put off, a stopgap measure is pavement patching. This is folly! The process and materials are very expensive and it is not the answer. It only delays the inevitable. And the inevitable will be much more expensive when and if it is done!

Heavier Loads – More Trips Nicollet County and all of southern Minnesota is experiencing a renaissance of sorts in agriculture. Today’s farming is “Not Your Father’s Farming”. Five-axle semi-tractor trailers are the standard farm equipment. Along with these are grain wagons, large tractors, combines, and heavy tillage equipment. In Minnesota, half of all privately registered heavy commercial vehicles are owned by farm or agriculture-related businesses.

Personal Example
In the past (like ten years ago) we used a small farm truck to haul 25 hogs four miles to the station (6625 pounds excluding the truck weight). Today, a semi trailer hauling 185 hogs (49,025 excluding truck weight) hauls them to Austin, Minnesota. This is repeated all over southern Minnesota. Hog production here has tripled since 1970.

Ethanol Growth
Minnesota’s ethanol industry is the third largest in the nation. In Southern Minnesota, about one third of the corn produced will flow to the ethanol plants. This corn will move mostly on local roads as a typical procurement area is within a thirty-mile radius of the plant. And what goes in must come out. Some of the finished product will move by truck, adding more traffic and use of roads. Also the distiller’s grain by-product must be transported to the feedlots.

2007 needs with 1988 funds
This increased activity means many more vehicles making more trips on the same old worn out roads. And it means the road authorities are challenged to maintain and improve today’s road activity with 1988 funding. It just can’t be done. The breaking point is near. We need a 10 cent gas tax increase. The money does not go very far. Consider that even a three cent increase will only give Nicollet County $150,000.

Political Hacks or Statesmen?
The Governor and the legislators need to stop looking to the next election and start looking at the needs of the citizens. We need a gas tax to fund roads and keep Minnesota’s economy rolling. end

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