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MnDOT discusses next 20 years of roads

Small group discussions were held as part of MnDot's stakeholder engagement meeting Tuesday afternoon at the Holiday Inn in Detroit Lakes. The idea is for community members throughout Minnesota to give ideas and feedback on road investments. Photo by - Paula Quam

Minnesota roads will be in decline over the next 20 years -- that's the bad news officials with the Minnesota Department of Transportation handed out at a public meeting in Detroit Lakes Tuesday.

MnDOT is holding stakeholder engagement meetings all across the state to get feedback from different communities on how best to invest its money -- a mandated blitz that is done every four years.

But money for roads is getting harder to come by, and MnDOT officials are looking for ideas and feedback on how to invest the dollars that they do have over the next 20 years. Transportation experts say it's not a rosy picture they're painting, and tough choices have to be made.

They project revenue for Minnesota roads will remain flat over the next two decades, but inflation won't.

"Construction-related inflation costs have been running at about 5 percent for the past decade, which is above general inflation increases," said Ryan Wilson of MnDot. "So those of us in the transportation world are realizing that it costs more to build projects and we're able to accomplish less."

MnDOT officials say it doesn't help that people are driving less, which provides less fuel taxes.

A few dozen people with a vested interest in the state of local transportation showed up for the meeting in Detroit Lakes, which encompasses a 12-county region that makes up district 4.

Although projects are already planned for the next four years, attendees were presented three different investment options to weigh in on as transportation officials and Gov. Mark Dayton decide which "road to go down" as they divvy up their 20-year, $18 billion in revenue.

Within the plans, key issues were addressed, including pavement, bridges, roadside infrastructure, safety, interregional corridor mobility, Twin Cities mobility, bicycle infrastructure, pedestrian accessibility and community priorities. The three options include:

Approach A:

This focuses on maintaining existing infrastructure across the state, while reducing investment in mobility, non-motorized transportation options and local priorities. Under this approach, pavement, bridge and roadside infrastructure conditions will reach a state of good repair but there will be little to no added capacity across all modes and limited responsiveness to local concerns.

Approach B:

Keep priorities where they are now. This means there will be a focus on bridges and safety and investment will stay the same in mobility, non-motorized transportation options and local priorities -- but there will be a significant decline in pavement condition on low-volume roads.

MnDOT officials view this option as one that will address the highest priority needs across all investment categories, but there would be a limited ability to respond to growing infrastructure needs.

Approach C:

Under this approach, there would be a focus on meeting infrastructure needs on interstates, increased investment in mobility, local priorities and non-motorized transportation options, but there would also be a significant deterioration in the condition of infrastructure on non-interstate highways.

Transportation experts believe there would be improved safety, but there would also be a significant decline in the condition of most roadways and increased travel times on more than half of the highway system.

No clear choice

None of the options are ideal, according to MnDOT officials, but they say at least having input from every corner of the state helps give them some direction on what the people want.

"It really depends on who you are and what your interests are. The pavement will already be in decline, but under one plan, more so," said Bridget Miller, planning director at MnDOT in Detroit Lakes. "And if we have to post a road, that would effect our farming community, but on the flip side, people who are on the bikes and trails would love to see more of that."

Miller says the fact that people have different interests make it tough because there is no right or wrong answer.

"We debate this internally, but I know locally there has been a lot of push to see more bike and pedestrian enhancements," said Miller, "and currently we don't have a huge dollar amount for that."

And although it's not set up as if the most popular plan with the most votes wins, MnDot officials say they will be taking citizen's feedback into consideration when deciding how to prioritize going into the future.

For those who would still like to offer ideas and feedback, a website has been set up for that. It can be found by searching online for the Minnesota State Highway Investment Plan.