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Big road investments needed, transportation committees hear

published 1/16/2013
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Almost 2,000 miles of Minnesota state highways are projected to be in poor condition by 2020 despite a nearly $400 million Department of Transportation pavement improvement program that will complete more than 500 miles of road fixes by 2014, transportation officials told a joint House hearing.

Catching up will require billions of dollars in transportation investments, said Transportation Commissioner Charlie Zelle and Scott Peterson, director of government affairs for MnDOT, at a joint hearing of the House Transportation Finance and Policy committees.

The department’s Better Roads for a Better Minnesota program, introduced by Gov. Mark Dayton in 2011, will spend $398 million by the end of 2014 to improve pavement conditions across the state.

But, Zelle noted: “We have a lot of roadways with a lot of age on them.”

House Transportation Finance Committee Chairman Frank Hornstein (DFL-Mpls) said his committee would look at needs of the state’s roughly 12,000 miles of trunk highways in coming weeks.

Zelle, in just his second day on the job as the state’s ranking transportation official, delivered an overview of MnDOT’s organization and recent initiatives.

Committee members praised the department for its Toward Zero Deaths push to cut highway fatalities through driver education, stepped up enforcement and roadway safety improvements. Since the program was introduced a decade ago, deaths on Minnesota roads have fallen from 655 in 2003 to a preliminary total of 379 in 2012, according to MnDOT.

“That has been an amazing initiative,” said Rep. Mike Beard (R-Shakopee). He cited it as an example of bipartisan cooperation.

Rep. Connie Bernardy (DFL-Fridley) also praised the program and said its success should be used to improve the safety of those on the roadways who are not in a vehicle.

“I think there is real opportunity … to provide real leadership on bike and pedestrian safety,” Bernardy said.

- Jonathan Avise

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