The Center for Rural Policy and Development in St. Peter came out with a report on Thursday that doesn't really surprise us. It really validates the suspicions and fears many have had about the future state of rural roads in Minnesota.
The study, "Roads Less Traveled," concludes that the state is falling farther and farther behind on maintaining our roads and bridges. And as money gets tighter, it will be harder for rural road projects to get the funding they need.
The study points out the shortfalls projected by the Minnesota Department of Transportation in the draft of its 20-year plan. It can currently budget $18 billion over the next 20 years, but the agency also projects it will need $30 billion just to keep up on maintenance of roads and bridges.
The report details how the gas tax has been holding steady or declining as a source of transportation project revenue over the past decade, and how inflation is eating away at the gas tax's buying power.
It also points out the concentration of population and legislative seats in the metropolitan area will make it difficult for rural legislators to get attention for our projects, and how new federal legislation is concentrating federal resources on the biggest, most heavily traveled roads.
It is essential that the state explore new sources of funding to replace or supplement the gas tax. There is no one easy solution, but a mixture of options must be considered, from expanding sales taxes dedicated to public transit, expanding local government revenue options, toll roads, taxing vehicles by weight, to public-private partnerships and other options.
As we said, this report states the obvious, but it is an issue that needs to be stated and restated until some real action is taken to address it.