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COL $2.5 billion road plan is responsible, efficient

By Carol Molnau

Gov. Pawlenty and I recently announced an historic $2.5 billion transportation funding plan that, if approved by the Legislature, will jump-start dozens of long-delayed, high-priority highway projects throughout Minnesota.

This fiscally responsible plan calls for $2.5 billion in bonding to be made available for accelerating highway projects in fiscal years 2007-17. Bonding is responsible and efficient in providing the infusion of revenues needed to build large, capital intensive projects earlier and faster.

For each year of delay, the costs of a highway project increase 9 to 12 percent. In contrast, the state can issue bonds at only 5 percent interest, resulting in significant inflation savings. Not only is bonding a smart business decision, building projects faster improves safety for the traveling public and the ability to move goods and services to market efficiently.

Under this plan, we are already able to identify 22 priority highway projects -- 18 in Greater Minnesota and four in the Twin Cities metro area -- that would be funded and accelerated. These identified projects account for just more than half of the plan's investment power, leaving approximately $1.2 billion yet to be committed to other projects.

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Included in the proposal are two safety and preventive maintenance projects that would build interchanges on Highway 52 in Hader and in Cannon Falls. The projects are estimated to cost $30 million and $40 million, respectively.

Under our plan, bonding will be paid for from the new revenues for state highways provided by passage of a constitutional amendment that will appear on the statewide ballot this fall. Using these new revenues to support bonding and accelerate construction of high-priority highway projects by years or decades is an opportunity that simply cannot be missed.

The constitutional amendment would dedicate 100 percent of motor vehicle sales tax revenues to transportation. Currently, only about 53 percent of those revenues go to transportation.

Increasing the dedication to 100 percent, and doing so permanently in the state constitution, will benefit city roads, county highways, transit systems and the state highway network.

In just the first 10 years after passage, the amendment will provide $2.5 billion in new revenues for all transportation systems, including state highways. The revenues from the motor vehicle sales tax should be dedicated to transportation -- that only makes sense.

Moreover, by looking at the identified projects that will benefit from our investment plan, and considering what additional projects from across the state also might be accelerated, Minnesotans can easily see the importance of voting YES on this amendment in November.

The Pawlenty-Molnau administration has provided more money for transportation than any in history. Our new proposal builds on these efforts, and especially on our highly successful 2003 funding initiative that resulted in the acceleration of nearly 20 major highway and safety projects throughout Minnesota.

In transportation corridors across the state we are making measurable progress, building projects that have reduced congestion, improved safety, enhanced mobility and supported public transit -- years ahead of schedule.

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We need to continue these efforts with our current plan, or we risk losing momentum in addressing needed improvements to Minnesota roadways.

Our new plan reflects bipartisan support for using bonding to accelerate transportation projects. In 2005, more than 30 bills were introduced in the Legislature, authored by dozens of Democrat and Republican legislators, proposing some form of bonding to accelerate construction of local road, bridge or state highway projects.

In fact, the Pawlenty-Molnau proposal is similar to a 2005 DFL plan that called for $2.1 billion in bonding for state highway projects. Our plan is a significant effort aimed at rebuilding bipartisan support for transportation investments and getting projects done.

Carol Molnau is Minnesota's lieutenant governor and Commissioner of Transportation.

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