Bridges not yet formed in transit funding discussions

Gov. Mark Dayton and state lawmakers – including Edina legislators – are debating funding strategies to long-term transportation maintenance and transit projects that could provide billions to the state and millions to Edina for bridge work.

Sen. Melisa Franzen (DFL-Edina) is the coauthor of a senate bill introduced in January, which preceded Dayton’s proposal to increase some taxes to help pour approximately $11 billion in transit money over the next 10 years. Republican leaders in the state house have said the newly-projected $1.9 billion surplus could cover transportation funding without tax increases. The proposed funding sources include a half-cent sales tax in the metro area, a 6.5 percent tax of wholesale gasoline, increased license plate tab fees and general fund dollars.

Franzen, who has been on the Transportation and Public Safety Committee for three years, said the bill she has signed onto is meant to be a conversation starter, but using the budget surplus for managing transportation funding as Republicans have proposed is not feasible.

“It’s not realistic,” she said. “It’s not doable. We need to find a common ground.”

Middle ground is not usually worked out until the end of a legislative session, she noted, and the proposed tax increases currently on the table may change. However, she stressed that long-term, dedicated transit funding would be essential to maintaining state roadways, bridges, and projects that would support multiple modes of transportation.

“There is a false understanding … that we have enough money in our transportation-dedicated funding source,” Franzen said.

She said transportation needs are widespread, and the proposed bill would support half of the Minnesota Department of Transportation’s funding for maintenance needs.

Rep. Ron Erhardt (DFL-Edina) said he may have a compromise to the funding question, but it was scheduled to be announced during a Wednesday press conference.

The governor’s proposal listed three specific Highway 62 bridge projects in Edina: at Gleason Road, Valley View Road and Nine Mile Creek.

In the 2019 projections, the proposed plan would also bring in approximately $600,000 in state aid allotments to Edina each year, according to Dayton’s office.

The Edina City Council approved a resolution in its March 3 consent agenda that supported the governor’s plan.

Edina Mayor Jim Hovland, who has been recommended for the Metropolitan Council’s Transportation Advisory Board chair position, said the amount of transit maintenance needed in the state take up all of MnDOT’s funding, when it formerly accounted for half of it.

One of the bigger challenges right now is that there is a shortage of funds to meet all of the transit needs in the state, Hovland said.

“We face a lot of system preservation issues,” Hovland said.

Edina Director of Engineering Chad Millner said the Edina’s 40 miles of state-aid roadways are underfunded, and increased allotments through the governor’s plan would provide great maintenance benefits. He said the France Avenue bridge over Highway 62 is on MnDOT’s maintenance project list for the next five years. But, increasing capacity and accommodating various traveling preferences would be ideal.

“We’d love to see the increased pedestrian facility,” he said. “We’d like to look at the volume of traffic and see how much is for automobiles, and is there room to add pedestrian facilities on there for the current structure.”

Funding sources and scope will depend on state-level negotiations.

Contact Paul Groessel at [email protected] or follow the Sun Current on Twitter @EdinaSunCurrent.