ST. PAUL, Minn. — Minnesota transportation officials unveiled a slate of 2017 road projects on Thursday with a warning: the roster of $1 billion in projects could be the last big spending for years to come.
Work on portions of the state's busiest freeways — I-94 in both Minneapolis and St. Paul, I-694 in Arden Hills, and I-35W in south Minneapolis — can be expected to disrupt travel for millions of motorists in the months ahead.
The state also expects this year to complete the St. Croix River Crossing, the Highway 36 bridge connecting Oak Park Heights, Minnesota, and St. Joseph, Wisconsin, and the long-discussed and long-delayed relocation of Highway 53 in Virginia, Minnesota, that includes the construction of what will be the tallest bridge in Minnesota.
State Transportation Commissioner Charles Zelle said when the new fiscal year kicks in July 1, "There are not sources to maintain a billion-dollar program."
He added, "This is the period where we are winding down. We won't be seeing this kind of robust program in future years."
MnDOT faces an $18 billion shortfall over the next 20 years due to flat revenue sources and rising costs. That means in future years, big ticket items will be fewer and far between, meaning no funding for tackling projects such as rebuilding the I-35W and I-494 interchange, ranked as the 17th most congested in the nation, or rebuilding I-94 between Minneapolis and St. Paul.
Democrats and Republicans disagree over how best to fund transportation projects, with Democrats favoring a hike in the gas tax for a reliable long-term money stream. Republicans generally oppose raising the tax.
"Our budget will see a 30 to 40 percent reduction in our capital program," Zelle said. "With more than half of our state roads older than 50 years, and 40 percent of our bridges more than 40 years old, the need is outpacing available resources. It's important that legislators work together to find a long-term, sustainable funding solution this year so the transportation system does not continue to degrade."
The Star Tribune reported (http://strib.mn/2nKpnKN ) that many major repairs and rebuilds are already underway.