Highway Safety Part of Transportation Funding Battle

April 19, 2017 09:54 PM

It's common to hear the economic benefits of transportation funding recited at the Minnesota State Capitol.

On Wednesday, though, the argument focused on life and death.


"Drivers make mistakes, but it shouldn't be a death sentence," Beth Hodgman said at a rally on the State Capitol steps in St. Paul.

Hodgman's husband was killed on Highway 14 in southern Minnesota.

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"It's four lanes and then it's two lanes, it's not well marked, it's a visibility (issue), it's curvy, windy, hilly...and it's just's been named the highway of horror," she said

An advocacy group is seeking funding to make Highway 14 safer. It would cost between $221 million and $310 million. The highway connects the regional centers of New Ulm, Owatonna, Rochester and Mankato.

Transportation Commissioner Charlie Zelle said the state needs permanent and dedicated funding for transportation, preferably through a gas-tax increase. 

"Don't stand for one-time funding," Zelle said at the Capitol rally, surrounded by more than 400 orange cones illustrating the number of highway traffic fatalities in one recent year in Minnesota. 

"Stand only for long-term, sustainable and self-funding in order to keep our state prosperous."

However, just one day earlier Governor Mark Dayton said in a radio interview that there isn't enough support for a gas-tax increase at the Capitol and he's willing to consider alternatives.

The Minnesota Senate has proposed $3.6 billion in transportation funding over ten years. The House bill includes $6 billion over the same period. Both bills lean heavily on existing revenue from sales taxes on things like auto parts and car rentals.

"We have a substantial bill that does not depend on raising new revenues," said Rep. Paul Torkelson, R-Hanska, chair of the House Transportation Committee.

He said he's encouraged the governor is willing to consider their plan.

"He's made a substantial statement in backing away from a gas tax and we accept that at face value," Torkelson said.

A House-Senate conference committee began working on a compromise on Wednesday.


Tom Hauser

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