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These comments are responses to the statements listed below,
which were generated in regard to the
Charles Zelle  Interview of

State faces $12B roads and bridges shortfall over next 20 years


According to Charles Zelle, commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT), Minnesota is underinvested in transportation. He says the system of state highways and bridges faces a $12 billion shortfall in necessary capital spending over the next 20 years: $5 billion to maintain the state road and bridge system we have and $7 billion to expand the system to help meet the needs of the state, its businesses and its communities. He observes that there is a $50 billion capital-spending shortfall over the next 20 years in all modes of transportation statewide.

Zelle admits that depreciation of the state roads and bridges is unfunded, i.e., not taken into account in budgeting. Yet, he says, those roads and bridges represent 80 percent of the state's assets. He maintains that the state's gas tax is inadequate, inefficient and diminishing and says a one-cent increase in the tax would generate $30 million. He notes the need for more tools to price traffic.

Zelle says there is not a choice between building transit and building roads, because we need both to accommodate a projected increase of one million people in the metro area. 

For the complete interview summary see: Zelle interview

Response Summary: Average response ratings shown below are simply the mean of all readersí zero-to-ten responses to the ideas proposed and should not be considered an accurate reflection of a scientifically structured poll.

To assist the Civic Caucus in planning upcoming interviews, readers rated these statements about the topic on a scale of 0 (strongly disagree) to 5 (neutral) to 10 (strongly agree): 

1. Topic is of value. (8.8 average response) The interview summarized today provides valuable information or insight.

2. Further study warranted. (7.9 average response) It would be helpful to schedule additional interviews on this topic.

Readers rated the following points discussed during the meeting on a scale of 0 (strongly disagree) to 5 (neutral) to 10 (strongly agree): 

3. Road deficiencies harm economy. (8.1 average response) Minnesota's economy is threatened because current roads are deteriorating faster than they can be fixed and maintained.

4. Add $12B for roads, bridges. (7.6 average response) Adding $12 billion--about a 66 percent increase over the next 20 years--to tax revenue for state roads and bridges is reasonable.

5. Existing sources not enough. (8.7 average response) Revenue from existing sources, i.e, gas taxes, vehicle license fees, and sales taxes on vehicles, is insufficient.

6. States must act. (8.6 average response) Minnesota and other states need to take more aggressive action on their own because significant federal support is becoming more uncertain.

7. Innovate to reduce traffic. (7.3 average response) Innovative ways to fill more vacant seats in cars would reduce transportation expense, congestion and pollution.

8. Tax windfalls to landowners. (6.3 average response) The state should capture revenue from windfalls to property owners near new freeway interchanges.

Response Distribution:

Strongly disagree

Moderately disagree


Moderately agree

Strongly agree

Total Responses

1. Topic is of value.







2. Further study warranted.







3. Road deficiencies harm economy.







4. Add $12B for roads, bridges.







5. Existing sources not enough.







6. States must act.







7. Innovate to reduce traffic.







8. Tax windfalls to landowners.







Individual Responses:

Bruce A. Lundeen (10) (10) (10) (7.5) (7.5) (10) (10) (10)

Lyle Wright (10) (5) (10) (7.5) (10) (10) (10) (7.5)

Dave Broden (7.5) (10) (7.5) (5) (10) (10) (5) (2.5)

1. Topic is of value. The interview provided a good overview but did not provide the desired solid content or alternatives that need to be addressed in transportation of all types for MN today and for 20+ years.

2. Further study warranted. Yes, definitely but the person must focus on the issue, alternatives, risks and paths forward.

3. Road deficiencies harm economy. This is easy to say yes to the question, but without some serious detail making a strong statement would be considered without fact. Is the problem deteriorating or lack of adequate roads or lack of alternative transportation or other?

4. Add $12B for roads, bridges. Would like to say yes, but information was not sufficient to support a position or even begin to discuss.

5. Existing sources not enough. Some new or modified form of revenue source must be established and evolved. This must link user fees with economic benefits and public safety.

6. States must act. State must be the leader with federal support where federal road and transportation links apply.

7. Innovate to reduce traffic. This approach, although commonly used as a goal, has been discussed for years and has yielded very little. Bigger thinking and innovation is required.

8. Tax windfalls to landowners. Need to have a good rationale why this makes sense. Too often basic public benefits and public safety, [assessments] for fire and health services, etc., are not addressed or considered.

Kevin Edberg (7.5) (7.5) (10) (10) (10) (10) (7.5) (10)

Don Anderson (5) (5) (7.5) (5) (10) (7.5) (7.5) (5)

4. Add $12B for roads, bridges. This is the same story for colleges and universities, health facilities, et al. They all need more financial resources than are currently available. At the same time people want lower taxes. That is the problem.

David J. Therkelsen (10) (5) (10) (7.5) (7.5) (7.5) (10) (10)

1. Topic is of value. Much as I believe depreciation should be recognized as a true cost of doing business, in any sector of the economy, given the system we have, can't we solve the issue by making sure bond issues and the projects they fund are well aligned chronologically? If we sell 30-year bonds for a project with a 30-year useful life, then 30 years later we should be able to renew this investment.

8. Tax windfalls to landowners. Local units of government capture some of value of land appreciation from these projects; why not the state; perhaps through some form of "reverse revenue sharing"?

Conrad deFiebre (10) (7.5) (10) (7.5) (10) (7.5) (10) (10)

2. Further study warranted. Critics of increasing user fees for roads and bridges make a one-dimensional argument based on public opposition, but too often fail to rebut the simple arithmetic Zelle presents. It would be useful to hear any alternatives they suggest for our undisputed transportation needs.

4. Add $12B for roads, bridges. I strongly support fully funding the $5 billion gap in money for maintenance of existing state highways. Anything less would be profligate and very un-conservative. But do we need another $7 billion to build new infrastructure that will need maintenance forever after? Only if a positive return on investment can be proven with honest budgeting that recognizes depreciation.

8. Tax windfalls to landowners. Also rail transit stations.

Norm Carpenter (10) (10) (10) (10) (10) (7.5) (7.5) (10)

7. Innovate to reduce traffic. Need another TCATS study (Twin Cities Area Transportation Study.) Who is in those cars and where are they going?

8. Tax windfalls to landowners. Legislature decided (unfortunately) not to permit the offset of value to the remainder when MDOT condemns land. Too much bleeding hearts motivation. Similarly with awards of damages for interrupted business during construction.

I was Deputy Attorney General for the State, representing, inter alia, the Department of Highways (pre-MDOT), in the late Sixties. Back then good people at the Department were well aware that the State was building more mileage than it could maintain, but every legislator wanted a new road. And the Interstate System was built with 90% free money.

Phil Kinnunen (10) (10) (10) (5) (10) (10) (0) (0)

7. Innovate to reduce traffic. Self-driving cars are in the future. They will be a novelty for a while until people realize that if I'm not doing the driving, why do I need a car and start ridding the bus or train. In metro areas, small rental cars, motorcycles, bikes that are available at train and bus stops would make a lot of sense.

8. Tax windfalls to landowners. Just because a person happens to have land near a new freeway interchange is not a reason to tax them. Tax them when they start making money from businesses or when they sell the land.

J. C. Nowicki (7.5) (5) (10) (10) (10) (10) (7.5) (5)

Bev Bales (na) (na) (na) (na) (na) (na) (na) (na)

The excess the state has should be used for our roads and bridges. Need folks all over the state to push for this. We are so very far behind in roads/bridges; how wrong.

Arvonne Fraser (10) (6) (8) (10) (10) (4) (2) (5)

No questions about mass transit here.

Terry Stone (8) (8) (6) (5) (5) (5) (6) (0)

The other side of the value capture coin requires government entities to reimburse property owners for diminished property values as a result of government actions. Diminished property value range[s] from the roar of freeway traffic that forever destroys the tranquility of backyard activities to zoning restrictions on private property use. Courts have consistently ruled that property owners are not entitled to be reimbursed for insidious regulatory partial takings by government. This would need to change before government can morally attempt to assess a value to its actions and charge the property owners for that ostensible enhanced value.

While Zelle is no longer an employee with any management authority for Jefferson Lines, I would be surprised if he didnít have a significant financial interest in the company. At minimum, as Chairman of the Board, he nevertheless has enormous policy influence and a conflict of interest on state mass transit priorities. Unattractive stunning conflicts of interest like this are endemic nonpartisan artifacts of Minnesota government.

Margaret Donahoe (10) (8) (10) (10) (10) (10) (5) (6)

Robert J. Brown (8) (10) (6) (5) (7) (10) (8) (8)

Support for has always been controlled by special interests and extremely short-term thinking. Some examples: The railroads were built into the state constitution; Rails for the street cars were torn up and now we have a much more expensive streetcar called light rail; If the highway lobby had not killed efforts to put a sales tax on gasoline instead of a legislated few cents per gallon when the state first went into the sales tax business, the revenue from the gas tax would have increased substantially; Minnesota officials did not seriously consider Dr. Andersonís proposal for personal rapid transit(PRT) in the 1970s that could have put us on the map as a truly innovative community. By the early 2000s the European Union commissioned a study that involved 12 research organizations, and concluded that PRT would provide future cities "a highly accessible, user-responsive, environmentally friendly transport system which offers a sustainable and economic solution"; could "cover its operating costs, and provide a return which could pay for most, if not all, of its capital costs"; would provide "a level of service which is superior to that available from conventional public transport"; would be "well received by the public, both public transport and car users." The report also concluded that, despite these advantages, public authorities will not commit to building PRT because of the risks associated with being the first public implementation.

Chuck Lutz (9) (9) (8) (10) (9) (8) (7) (8)

Tom Spitznagle (8) (7) (5) (5) (6) (7) (8) (8)

A key variable in transportation spending is population growth but there seems to be an assumption that this is an uncontrolled variable and that increased transportation spending must correlate to, and be supportive of, a significantly growing population. Perhaps the stateís political leadership should review this assumption and decide if population growth is a variable that needs to be better controlled. The default position is to simply let transportation costs be driven by whatever growth in population happens to occur over time in different parts of the state. Not the optimal approach to plan strategically and financially since it simply depends on spending an ever-increasing amount on transportation in response to an uncontrolled variable (i.e., population growth).

Wayne Jennings (8) (8) (7) (9) (8) (10) (6) (9)

Roger A. Wacek (na) (na) (0) (5) (5) (10) (10) (0)

The economy of the future will become more local on the downslope of peak oil.

Paul and Ruth Hauge (8) (9) (7) (8) (9) (8) (9) (6)

Tom Swain (10) (10) (9) (9) (10) (9) (10) (5)

The Civic Caucus   is a non-partisan, tax-exempt educational organization.   The Core participants include persons of varying political persuasions,
reflecting years of leadership in politics and business. Click here  to see a short personal background of each.

   David Broden,  Janis Clay,  Bill Frenzel,  Paul Gilje,   Jan Hively,  Dan Loritz (Chair),  Marina Lyon,  Joe Mansky, 
Tim McDonald,  John Mooty,  Jim Olson,  Wayne Popham  and Bob White

The Civic Caucus, 01-01-2008
2104 Girard Avenue South, Minneapolis, MN 55405.
Dan Loritz, chair, 612-791-1919   ~   Paul A. Gilje, coordinator, 952-890-5220.

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