We’re coming to the close of the 2015 legislative session in Minnesota, and that means some scrambling to get comprehensive bills passed. The DFL and GOP plans couldn’t be further apart in how they plan to fund roads, but at least they agree on the amount we should spend. Bipartisanship!
There’s a (perhaps growing) minority that thinks we should challenge the notion of expanding the road network, and maybe even some links we’ve built may be unnecessary. The Center for American Progress released a report of which major highways and interstates generate a surplus or loss across the country. Luckily, Minnesota was one of the case studies included. Here are the results:
Using traffic counts on individual segments of roadway, along with user fees like the gas tax and tolls, they were able to get a very granular view of which segments pay their way, as opposed to this (also informative) graphic at the county level. In urban areas with more than 1 million people across the whole country, they find that 64% of roadway segments operate at a loss. That same criteria in Minnesota (so, the Twin Cities urban area) yields just 25% operating at a loss, so we actually do pretty well.
Their methodology does not count vehicle sales taxes or license and registration fees as “user fees” for roads. In Minnesota, these make up a sizable chunk of dedicated MnDOT revenue streams. It would be interesting to see the ratios if they included a prorated amount of those revenue streams based on VMT share of total. On the flip side, they also exclude right of way acquisition, engineering, and initial construction costs on the lifecycle cost side.
Here’s a more detailed look at the Twin Cities:
One more thing to note: this doesn’t include the many county and municipal state aid roads that are essential to getting car traffic around the metro. Other metro case studies like Phoenix, Denver, and St Louis have many more arterials included in their evaluation. Anyway, take a look at the report, it’s a great read!