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Minn. roads receive low marks, infrastructure grade slightly better

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A report card grading Minnesota's infrastructure.
Legislators and civil engineers announce the findings of a new report card grading Minnesota's infrastructure at the state Capitol Tuesday. The systems received an overall C grade but roads earned a D+.
Laura Yuen | MPR News

Updated: 6 p.m. | Posted: 1:57 p.m.

Civil engineers in Minnesota are giving the state's roads a D+ rating.

The state's contingent of the American Society of Civil Engineers released a first-ever report card grading Minnesota's infrastructure, ranging from bridges and dams to drinking water. The state gets a middling "C" overall, which is above the D+ national average.

Structural engineer Ariel Christenson, communications director for the ASCE Minnesota section, said roads and other systems across the state need some serious upgrades, but elected officials haven't funded them.

"We need to come together and recognize that infrastructure impacts everyone — every Minnesotan here. It's our quality of life, it's how we get to work every day," she said. "Do you come home in a good mood because you've sat in traffic all day, and the wear and tear on your car has cost you personal dollars?"

Christenson and her colleagues recommend finding "sustainable, long-term funding" to modernize and maintain roads and transit. According to the association, the average driver in the Twin Cities spends 41 peak hours in congestion each year, averaging a cost of $1,332.

Minnesota has the fifth-highest number of roadway miles in the nation, and yet engineer Seth Spychala told reporters at the Capitol that they're underfunded.

"It is estimated there's an $885 million a year shortfall in funding for roads in Minnesota. We must come up with comprehensive funding mechanisms — that's plural," said Spychala.

But the question of how to pay for transportation is a perennial debate at the Legislature. Last session, lawmakers tried to permanently dedicate sales tax money to road and bridge projects and tried to get it on the ballot for voters to approve. But that proposal went nowhere.

"I try to explain to members of our caucus, if we don't take care of what we own, somebody is going to have to take care of it somehow," said Rep. Dean Urdahl, R-Grove City, who chairs the House Capital Investment Committee. "Is that going to be local taxes going up? Is it going to be higher tuition at our colleges and universities? One way or another, someone is going to have to pay — or everything simply is going to fall apart."

And when it comes to getting people from home to work, most Minnesotans want to pay more to improve their transit system. That's according to a new poll conducted for the Minneapolis Regional Chamber. 

Sen. Scott Dibble, DFL-Minneapolis, said some communities are feeling the brunt of inequitable transit and transportation systems.

"We are absolutely delivering an F for some communities," said Dibble. "There are some communities who do not have convenient transportation options to get to where the jobs are. This is completely insane. We have people who can't get to jobs, and jobs going unfilled."

Nationwide, roads earned a flat "D" grade in the infrastructure report card from 2017.

The Minnesota report also found:

• 5.4 percent of bridges in the state are structurally deficient, which is well below the national average.

• The 20-year drinking water infrastructure need for Minnesota is $7.5 billion, and wastewater facilities require $236 million annually to pay for upgrades and the replacement of treatment and collection systems.

• About $450 million is needed over the next five years to keep Minnesota's public transit systems in "working order."

The Minnesota chapter of the engineering association is driven by volunteers. They hope to release the report card on a regular basis.

The full report can be read here.