Sunday, August 19, 2007

The Bridge

Obviously the issue the legislature is grappling with now is the 35W bridge collapse. Certainly readers were as shocked as I was to hear the news and to see the footage of the collapse. Of course the first priority in the hours after the collapse was to help the injured and locate the victims. Having been an emergency medical technician in college, I can certainly vouch for how difficult that work is. Many of those killed were from the north metro, since they were commuting home on the bridge. One in particular, Sherry Engebretson, was from district 53A; I did not know her personally, and I cannot imagine how difficult things are for her family right now.

Now the task ahead of us is to figure out how to replace the bridge, to consider other actions related to transportation funding in a special session, and to figure out what went wrong.

Replacing the bridge: The federal government is pledging $250 million toward replacement. Minneapolis would like to see a bridge that can carry light rail or at least bus rapid transit. The city and the Governor believe that a ten-lane bridge is desirable. Many believe that federal dollars will be slow in actually getting to Minnesota and that the state will foot the bill in the meantime. Personally I would like to see us build a bridge that takes into account what we might do in ten to twenty years, and that might be rail to the northern suburbs. Some major bridges including 169 at Bloomington Ferry apparently were built with footings to support rail in case that became necessary, which would reduce the future cost of rail. However, I recognize that there could be a substantial delay to rebuilding if rail is considered. I am waiting for updates from my colleagues on the transportation committee on what the trade-offs will be.

Your thoughts would be appreciated.

Special session: The Governor and the leaders of the House and Senate believe that a special session of a few days duration would be appropriate. Letters are going back and forth to determine areas of agreement so that we can act quickly and cooperatively. All members of the House of Representatives and the Senate were on a conference call with Senator Pogemiller and Speaker Kelliher about a week ago to update us on the situation and we get updates every day or every other day. I suspect we will see a special session that will focus on a comprehensive transportation package and perhaps some modest bonding proposals related to roads and bridges, as well as a modest property tax relief proposal.

During the regular session I supported an increase in the gas tax since it is constitutionally dedicated to roads and bridges and cannot be used for any other purpose, because the backlog of transportation projects is so huge, and because more and more of our property taxes are going to fix up local roads (and 38% of the gas tax pays for local roads). Some legislators, like Rep. Marty Seifert, say we should wait for the November forecast and put any surplus toward the 35W bridge replacement. But what about the other 1,000 bridges in Minnesota that are "structurally deficient"?