Updated: 01/31/2014 12:35 PM
Created: 01/31/2014 7:00 AM KSTP.com
By: Jennie Olson
There are 12,000 miles of highways and interstates in Minnesota, and on Friday the people who oversee them are asking how much we’re willing to pay to keep them up-to-date.
The Minneapolis Regional Chamber of Commerce joined the discussion with state legislators and transportation leaders during a forum at the Minneapolis Hilton on Friday morning.
"This is more than just the regular freeze and thaw cycles," said Chair of the House Finance and Transportation Committee Frank Hornstein. "There's a certain amount of time where one has to re-pave and rework what we have in our existing infrastructure."
State estimates say we are several billion dollars short of paying for road repairs; that number goes up when it comes to expanding the system to make room for a growing population.
The business community wants to tackle the problem to keep their companies intact.
"To keep that competitiveness, we need to continually upgrade our system, just like you do your computers, your sewer, your phones," Will Schoeer, the Director of Infrastructure for Economic Development with the Minneapolis Regional Chamber of Commerce, said. "Any infrastructure sounds boring, but it needs to be constantly upgraded if you are going to keep pace with your competition."
The Minnesota Department of Transportation says just maintaining the way the roads are will cost $5 billion over the next 20 years. To expand and be more competitive, it will cost an additional $7 billion just for roads and bridges. The entire system – including trains and airports – will cost $50 billion to stay competitive, according to state estimates.
The options to pay for that include federal grants, state bonding money and higher gas taxes.
"Mileage is going down and vehicles are becoming more efficient," said James Corless, Director of Transportation for America. "Those two things have conspired to basically make us buy less gasoline."
Corless said that means whatever money going to our gas tax now is not going to be enough in the future.
"Infrastructure matters," said MnDOT Commissioner Charles Zelle. "If we're not constantly investing in what we have, we will pay higher consequences."