Governor Dayton arrived promptly at 1:30 at the MnDOT facility in Mankato. He expressed his condolences on behalf of Mankato Mayor Eric Anderson who lost his mother and could not attend.
He noted that one of his first meetings as a U.S. Senator was with Owatonna Mayor Tom Kuntz when they talked about extending U.S. 14 as four lanes from Wisconsin to South Dakota. He emphasized that US 14 will not get fixed without additional funding. He has a 10 year plan, it addresses projects all over the State, and we can’t rely on the federal government for transportation funds.
MnDOT Commissioner Zelle then addressed the details of the plan. He stressed that the projects unveiled on the February 17th were chosen based on road performance, scientific metrics and sound analysis. Under the plan, the expansion of U.S. 14 will get finished from Rochester to New Ulm. The highlighted transportation projects are about the economy of our State, safety is a high priority, and the plan extends the useful life of our infrastructure in a prudent and efficient manner. Under current transportation funding, these projects will not happen. Patching pot holes is much more expensive. The increase in motor fuel taxes will be about $15/month per driver.
The Governor then stated that he had no role in prioritizing the projects on the list so they are not political; they were assembled by professionals at MnDOT. These projects are State highways, but under his plan, counties and cities will receive more revenue through the constitutional formula. He then cited what some of the local communities would receive. This list is available online here.
Congressman Walz then spoke. He emphasized the economic growth in the region, and that the government owes taxpayers a discussion about transportation funding. He stressed that the federal government could not be relied upon for funding to fix Highway 14, and that now is the time for the State to act.
Mayor Tom Kuntz of Owatonna spoke. He said, “Now we have a plan.” He told how the Commissioner had toured the area, and that he hoped we could have a bi-partisan funding bill for transportation.
Mayor Robert Beussman of New Ulm spoke next. He emphasized that every day we wait, it costs us more to fix Highway 14.
Mankato City Administrator Pat Hentges spoke on behalf of Mayor Eric Anderson. He emphasized how roads are fundamentally what government does. He emphasized the need to make Minnesota a leader in roads, that surplus money alone does not work for highway projects, and that U.S. Highway 14 needs a bold proposal.
Jonathan Zierdt, President and C.E.O. of Greater Mankato Growth, thanked the Governor for his support of U.S. Highway 14. He emphasized that highway expansion is a business issue. The Governor’s plan is a bold plan that gets it done, and we have the opportunity now to get it done.
Geoff Roise of Lindsay Window and Door then told his story of how important Highway 14 is to his business, both in terms of delivery routes his trucks take and in term of his employees that drive over 10 miles on Hwy 14 to get to work.
The Governor then took questions. He stated that approximately $75 million is currently being spent on planning for Hwy 14 and estimates it will take $344 million to finish. That is about 5% of his $6 billion plan for roads.
Vance Sternberg of Blue Earth County pointed out that the Governor’s tax proposal works out to be about a half-cent per mile, and thanked the Governor for his long range plan.
The Governor stated that the proposed new tax has a floor and can also be capped. Commissioner Zelle emphasized that energy costs track the cost of repairs and roadwork, so the tax tracks the expenses it covers. In response to a question, the Governor stated that his plan also addresses transit, both in the Metro and Greater Minnesota.
In response to the question, “Why now,” the Governor stated that this should have been addressed 10 years ago. It is politically difficult to raise transportation funding, because it takes 10 years to see the effects of new transportation funding, so your successor gets to attend the ribbon cutting ceremony. Because he is not going to run again, he is not concerned about the political aspects, he is concerned that sufficient transportation funding is long overdue.
Audience members stressed the high the importance of roads for agriculture interests as well. Several stood to thank the Governor for his attention to U.S. Highway 14.
When asked if his plan was the only way to get there, the Governor welcomed alternative plans. He stressed that one-time surplus dollars would not fix the problem, and that road work needed a guaranteed source of revenue. Congressman Walz chimed in that a concrete plan is needed and it is Highway 14’s time.
The Governor concluded that this is about us and our kids and our grandkids. Funding transportation is about the future of the region and the State, and our responsibility to the future.