If the Highway 14 Partnership has its way, a lot more funding could be flowing to regional road projects.
That’s a goal many transportation-related organizations share next year, even though the Legislature plans to concentrate more on policy issues during the 2018 session. Still, everyone from local lawmakers to transportation experts is gearing up for a continued debate over Minnesota’s transportation needs.
“We will be very engaged in recommending, endorsing and advocating for the need for Corridors of Commerce funding for the Highway 14 projects,” said Patrick Baker, director of government and institutional affairs for Greater Mankato Growth.
Locally, area officials are waiting to see whether recent changes to how projects are prioritized will affect funding for Highway 14’s remaining two projects to turn it into a four-lane route from New Ulm to Rochester.
Baker said the partnership is encouraged by a mandate to direct half of the Corridors of Commerce funding to outstate projects, but they fear the changes mean more metro roads will get money that was specifically geared for Greater Minnesota.
Statewide, organizations such as the Association of Minnesota Counties and the Minnesota Transportation Alliance are exploring whether to push a constitutional amendment to dedicate more funding for roads and bridges, specifically the motor vehicle sales tax and other recent auto-related general fund money that was used in this year’s GOP-led transportation bill.
“As it is, there’s about $307 million of taxes that is received from auto parts,” said Blue Earth County Commissioner Vance Stuehrenberg. “Obviously, if we have a constitutional amendment, the whole $307 million would go into transportation.”
Stuehrenberg is vice president of the Minnesota Transportation Alliance board of directors and also serves as vice-chair of a transportation committee through the Association of Minnesota Counties. He said he’s heard some support from members of both groups, but any serious campaign to change Minnesota’s Constitution would need backing from other organizations such as the League of Minnesota Cities and the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce.
Baker said neither Greater Mankato Growth or the Highway 14 Partnership had taken a side on the issue.
House Transportation Committee Chair Paul Torkelson, R-Hanska, said he’s heard similar rumblings but hasn’t formed an opinion on the issue. He said the Legislature would have to have more research before lawmakers discuss the issue.
“You want to weigh all those possibilities before you take that leap because you probably get only one shot at it,” he said.
Torkelson said he expects his committee to focus on improving the Minnesota Licensing and Registration System, or MNLARS, as well as the state’s transition to meeting federal REAL ID requirements.
He also hopes the committee will review more railroad projects throughout the state.
“The more of these commodities we can keep off the roads and on those rails, the better shape our roads will be,” Torkelson said.