The Infrastructure Debate in a Nutshell

Minnesota’s bridges are still out there aging as the title of this opinion piece by Lori Sturdevant announces. When it hit the pages of the Star Tribune earlier this week Sturdevant makes the argument that transportation funding at the State level is needed or taxpayers will “pay a high price if they continue their habit of neglect.”

If only things were that simple.

Explaining infrastructure financing: 10th Avenue Bridge example

The problem with infrastructure funding can be boiled down to the example given in this Strib Opinion piece: the 10th Avenue Bridge.

The 10th Avenue Bridge in Minneapolis is a local street with a local bridge that serves local traffic. Yet, we find it necessary to criticize state legislators for not allocating money to support a project that has no state or regional significance. Herein lies the disconnect between how we think transportation financing works and how it actually works.

Different levels of government are responsible for different roadways. For example, you can pass a major Federal transportation bonding bill that will allocate money to highways, interstates or some choice transit projects, yet none of that money will trickle to local streets or bridges. Also, 57% of the funds would go to new projects and not maintenance.

Why can’t Minneapolis afford this bridge?

This bridge does need repair work. No question about it.  Minneapolis claims it cannot afford the bridge. This is probably a true statement. So at this point, we should ask ourselves: why can’t Minneapolis afford this bridge?

In my mind, this is the billion dollar question.

Minneapolis can’t afford the bridge because it doesn’t want to. Why? Because Minneapolis doesn’t truly see the value to build it entirely by itself. This is reminiscent of the Chuck Marohn-ism of eating lobster. It goes something like, “I love lobster and am will eat it every day if someone is willing to continually pay 75% of my bill.” This is the position in which the City of Minneapolis finds itself.

Prior to the construction of the adjacent I-35W Bridge it would have made financial sense, but transportation preferences have changed and we should adapt. It might sound crazy, but what if we radically changed how we view and use this bridge?

Does Minneapolis need the 10th Avenue Bridge, or what’s the real problem?

Does Minneapolis actually need the 10th Avenue Bridge? When I-35W was non-existent during its reconstruction in 2007-2008, travel times weren’t drastically affected. So, why would 10th Avenue be any different? I mean, take a look at this four-lane road on StreetView.

10th Ave Failure

The Strib op ed states if there is no transportation bill this year, the 10th Avenue project could grow from a $42 million repair job to a $100-million-plus replacement. I reject this claim. If we blindly rebuild 10th Avenue, then yes. But, if we look at other options, then no! Other options are available and can yield a better result.

I vote we close the bridge, or drastically reduce it car capacity and add another low-impact bike/ped connection between the two banks of the University campus. This would be much cheaper and have far more benefit.

We can’t keep throwing money at a problem without a good feedback loop. The four lane local street/bridge combination has likely run its course, and let’s seriously re-evaluate if this is what we actually need or want.