Minnesota bracing for low grade from civil engineers

8:11 AM, Mar 22, 2013   |    comments
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MINNEAPOLIS - Minnesota has not received a "grade", as yet, from the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE). The group gave the nation, as a whole, a "D +".

"Our status is similar to the national status," said Seth Spychala, President of the Minnesota Chapter of the ASCE. "It is clean water. It is waste water. It is mass transit. It is a lot of different things, but roads and bridges come to mind in Minnesota when people talk about infrastructure."

The ASCE report card notes that 9.1% of Minnesota bridges are considered "structurally deficient". 52% of Minnesota roads are in "poor or mediocre" condition.

A major issue in fixing the state's roads and bridges is where to find the money to pay for repairs and replacements. State Senator Scott Dibble (DFL-Minneapolis) and Minnesota Taxpayers' League President Phil Krinkie disagree on how to fund the work.

"Is it more important to have all day kindergarten or is it more important to replace dilapidated and structurally deficient bridges?" asked Krinkie.

Dibble responded: "His argument is that somehow we compete in the General fund for both of those priorities and we do not."

Krinkie feels that the state can invest in infrastructure by a shift in priorities by the lawmakers. That is, to use money in the existing budget for infrastructure.

"We cannot," said Dibble. "The level of funding that we have now is not even keeping up with the maintenance of our roads and bridges. We are falling further and further behind on just the upkeep. So, we have to put more dollars in."

Krinkie was dubious.

"There is this mentality in the Legislature that we can only use gas tax revenues for roads and bridges, which is a very short term thinking in the process."

Spychala said the civil engineers want a three-prong approach to restoring the infrastructure. "Our key message is we need leadership. We need a comprehensive plan and we need the investment."

Spychala said where those three elements have been in place, as in the light rail Central Corridor project, things get done and the engineers can raise the state's grade.

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