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Tuesday Talk: What to do about crumbling roads?

September 13, 2011 By Joe Sheeran, Communications Director

At a recent Humphrey Institute transportation forum, one policymaker proposed a toll to offset a new Stillwater Bridge’s cost. While Minnesota doesn’t have tolls, some metro roads already have congestion pricing and MnDOT is piloting a program charging drivers based on the number of miles they drive.

With crumbling roads and bridges and a federal gas tax that’s losing purchasing power, what is the best way to fund infrastructure? 

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  • Jeff says:

    September 13, 2011 at 8:06 am

    Minnesota needs toll roads.  You get what you pay for.  Look at the difference between driving from southern WI into northern IL. It’s like going from a rough path (WI) to a smooth functional road (IL).  Illinois has had toll roads for many years.

  • Rob says:

    September 13, 2011 at 8:12 am

    Like North Dakota has been doing, we could go from asphalt back to dirt.

  • Rob says:

    September 13, 2011 at 8:19 am

    The DOTs idea of taxing people based on miles driven would hammer construction workers. Many (trying to rebound from high unemployment) drive over 100 miles a day and are already burdened by high gas costs - a terrible and regressive tax for sure. Could you TAX THE RICH? China has no problem taxing the rich or building roads. Wake up America. We are trending toward Model Ts while the rest of the world is going super-hiqhway.

  • KJC says:

    September 13, 2011 at 8:29 am

    I’m a car guy.  Those who know me and my life would say that’s a significant understatement. 
    And?  We needed to start raising the gas tax some time ago.  Personally I’ll hate it, but it’s for the Common Good. If we want to assist the very poor, who will likely be hit harder by this percentage wise, we can give a small tax credit to low income groups as an offset.
    Then?  We should keep going, charting a course towards an energy independent future for our great country.  The ever increasing amount of money that we have sent overseas for petroleum, sometimes to by used by our enemies to hurt us, is a scandal.
    We got the first message in 1973, I remember the shortages and stations not open on Sundays etc.  I was finishing my business degree… and was astonished that we did nothing long term… like 55 mph was some kind of answer to this kind of global challenge and power struggle ... and nearly 40 years later the costs of that inaction are dear. 
    Bridges falling and roads crumbling are visible signs of our decay.  Each generation must renew America, that’s what is inherent to the statement from our Founding Document “We the People.”  WE are those people now. 
    The crumbling roads and bridges are a problem, and they are also a metaphor.  Invest or continue our decline, if that takes some individual sacrifice…and investment nearly always does… don’t flinch or waver.
    What’s at stake?  Nothing less than our whole future.  Invest or suffer further decline… you choose. 

  • Ed Rapp says:

    September 13, 2011 at 8:36 am

    WHAT INFRASTRUCTURE?  If you’re talking roads and bridges, then just let them slide for a few years.  I think you would find a significant number of voters begging for that much-needed increase in gasoline taxes.  But if you are referring to our educational infrastructure, then you must be even more patient until teachers learn to produce students who fit our one-size-fits-all quality control model. But maybe you’re concerned about the political infrastructure, where the once noble experiment has turned into a broad field of mush. 
    Here I can only refer you to infrastructure #2. Our so-called “founding fathers, wih less than 1% of the communication opportunities that we have today, believed that an informed citizenry could overcome all barriers. Thus, the electoral college, which has turned the American dream into a nightmare.
    Maybe the whole problem is one of design, and we should take a new look at homo sapiens. It could just be infrastructure.  Check with God, whoever she may be.

  • Brian R says:

    September 13, 2011 at 8:38 am

    Let’s apply user fees (see taxes) on those companies who rely on semi-trucks to transport goods on our highways and interstates. This does NOT mean we should simply focus on the trucking firms and drivers, rather the manufacturers (especially those based offshore) who distribute their goods all over our state. The ICC is another institution that punishes truckdrivers rather than the REAL culprits (large companies such as WalMart, Best Buy, Target, etc…) who do NOT contribute their fair share of infrastructural/ capital expenses, while they use the roads 24/7 and damage them more than any automobile! Since they’ve found ways to avoid paying taxes, we need to find ways to charge them for using our roads and highways until they step-up and admit that they are part of the problem.

  • John Crampton says:

    September 13, 2011 at 8:52 am

    Separate roads for cars and trucks. 

    Make the trucking companies pay for the wear and tear they cause to the roads and for their pollution.

    Make drivers pay for their gas guzzlers with single occupants going 50 miles one way to work so they can live in the exurbs, aka “foreclosureland.”  Make everyone pay for the greenhouse gases they are emitting, the soldiers we are sending to the Middle East and the costs of the ones who are coming home with horrible injuries and terrible psychological scars that will cripple them for life.

    Gas should be about $8 or $9 a gallon, until we break this terrible addiction with mass transit, locally-grown food and products, and renewable, non-polluting alternatives to fossil fuels.



  • Robert says:

    September 13, 2011 at 9:08 am

    No toll roads!! I’ve been saying for 40 years that we need to invest in a world class public transit system. It’s the smartest way to go back and forth to work, if you work in one location, and it’s a job creator.

  • Frank Hawthorne says:

    September 13, 2011 at 9:16 am

    Personally, (however unlikely it is w. Mn politics the way they are), in preference to bridge fees & pay-as-you-play tollroads, I’d rather see a universally imposed increase in the gasoline/fuel tax. This is in fact Long overdue, and would promote purchase of fuel-efficient vehicles. Plus, Minnesota should be proud to offer its citizens “free” access to free roads & bridges.

  • Susan Rengstorf says:

    September 13, 2011 at 9:21 am

      Why should Minnesotans have to pay for a bridge so people from Wisconsin can come here to work the jobs that Minnesotans need to have? Maybe everyone coming into the state should have to pay a toll for using the roads.

  • Rob says:

    September 13, 2011 at 10:33 am


    Absolutely, not only do they take our jobs, but we literally “pave the way” for them. Idiotic. Out of state workers in MN should pay a fee back to MN.

  • DLM says:

    September 13, 2011 at 11:28 am

    Many good ideas have been expressed here.  Transportation must include public transit and roads.  We must recognize that they are both vital and that neither will probably ever be completely self-sustaining.  (i.e. both need some tax support.)  The real cost of roads needs to be acknowledged (loss of tax base, policing, maintaining, snow/ice removal, etc. in addition to cost of building them).  Gas taxes must go up.  If tolls become a necessity for bridges/highways, then public transportation should be exempt from those tolls.

  • Grant Tiefenbruck says:

    September 13, 2011 at 11:41 am


  • Joe says:

    September 13, 2011 at 12:14 pm

    Some great ideas here, but let’s not forget transit. Aside from investment, we need to change the culture about how we use and who uses buses and light rail.

    Friday night I was out with friends in downtown Minneapolis.  As we were leaving the eatery, a friend asked where I parked. I said I took the bus.  She started laughing and asked, “Seriously where are you parked?” “I took the bus,” I replied.

    I’ve been made fun of on multiple occasions and have been called crazy for taking the bus.

    It’s that kind of mentality that we must overcome.  The bus isn’t a mode of transport for people who don’t drive or don’t have a car. It’s a mode of transport that helps make our entire transportation system more efficient.

  • Riordan Frost says:

    September 13, 2011 at 2:05 pm

    I think it has to be a mixed approach, as many here have suggested. If you’re looking at the bigger picture, attention must be paid to transit, higher-density development, and limits to auto-centric sprawl.

    On a more specific and short-term scale, I think that vehicle-miles-traveled (with credits for low-income earners and people with long-distance driving jobs - which doesn’t include exurban commuters) is a good idea, but its implementation is too far off to provide the resources currently needed. A gas tax could help, but rising fuel efficiency is causing the gas tax system to become outdated relatively quickly.

    Tolls work in many places across the country. I recently carpooled up to Connecticut from DC, and we had to pay at least $25 in tolls. Was it a pain? Well, yes (partially because we didn’t have EZ-Pass), but I actually felt that I was paying close to my fair share for the infrastructure I was using. Minnesota tolls for congestion, and I think it is logical and necessary to toll the Stillwater Bridge, if it is built in MnDOT’s current preference. This would not only help recoup some of the high costs, it would also decrease demand somewhat, which would cause the bridge to last longer - a comforting thought to one who opposes it all together. In general, I support the expansion of tolling, because users are paying less and less for the costs of road construction and maintenance.

    Of course, all short-term fixes must be done within the context of what we are doing to move towards long-term solutions, like the ones briefly mentioned above.

  • KJC says:

    September 13, 2011 at 3:30 pm

    I appreciate the effort made in this discussion.  And those who might be familiar with my posts know that basically I agree with the tone and direction of this list.
    I am worried though.  Why?  I hear a lot of very specific advice on this thread.  Might I ask a question?  Who on this list can tell me what the average subsidy is, right now, for each transit ride in the seven county metro area?  If you don’t know that number?  It’s just one example of a long list of facts that you maybe should know?  Do you really have enough facts to be giving advice in a policy discussion if you don’t?
    If you think it’s as easy as ramping up public transit, wait ‘til you see the taxes that’s going to take to pay the subsidy (if you do the math.)  I find many like the idea of this, but assume that it’s somehow self-supporting, so expansion sounds automatically good.  The basic financial facts might be different that you are assuming? 
    I tend to be in favor of broad policy drivers: like raising the gas tax to push the whole trend a certain way.  I have less enthusiasm for micro social engineering experiments… they turn out expensive for the results with alarming frequency.  Just some big picture stuff to consider?


    September 13, 2011 at 8:02 pm

    Throw the Tea Party Republicans in the pot holes, they are so unconscious they won’t feel a thing when we drive over them!!!!!!!

  • Charles Stander says:

    September 13, 2011 at 9:34 pm

    The commons need adequate funding.  State Universities, good roads and rails, good schools adequately funded with workable class room sizes and activities for all students.  This comes from taxes based on the ability to pay.

    Since the Republicans started their tax cuts that benefited the upper income people, they have dismantled the Minnesota Miracle.

    Thank you Amy Koch and Kurt Zeller for distroying liberty, equal opportunity, and justice mfor all.

  • Dan Conner says:

    September 26, 2011 at 8:53 am

    The obvious answer to this is taxes.  However, I think a major point not covered by the press or the Democrats is that Republicans, like Grover Norquist, want to shrink Government to the size that it can be drowned in the bathtub.  Republicans want Government to fail.  They prove it everyday by the silly obstructions the pose for governance.

    Why would b=people elect a party for political office and leadership who are committed to destroy the Government they are committed to run?  Republicans want the President to fail AND they want the Government to fail.  Then, they can prove their point that Government doesn’t work.

    What they are doing is trying to shepherd a sadistic feeling that Government doesn’t work by making it so.  A key question people have to ask themselves is, “Why do they elect people who campaign so hard for a position, alleging they want to do so much for people, when they really want to destroy all that Government does for people?”

    There are a very small number of very rich and powerful pe9ople that benefit from this Republican ploy, but the rest are ignorant followers, like sheep being led to slaughter.

  • KJC says:

    September 26, 2011 at 9:33 am

    Might I add another example of the double-talk?  First Republicans like to make statements such as “the government can’t create jobs.”  They say it over and over.  (Having been everything from the clerk to the CEO, I understand that the the government at the very least is the arbiter of the conditions for commerce which is extremely important if there is to be a good community for all.
    Anyway, in the debates you see Perry and Romney going after each other over which one has created the most jobs in their respective states.  They can’t have it both ways: saying “the government can’t create jobs” and then spend time debating ... over and over… which of them has done the best job of creating jobs as a governor. 
    This is the kind of double-talk that shows what a win-at-all-costs sham this is, not a serious policy debate. 
    Given the suffering of our fellow citizens all across our great land, our times cry out for genuine effort that would improve the Common Good.  Looking at this tactics-over-substance “debate,”  which is a symbol for politics-before-country, I find that whole masquerade offensive.