St. Croix bridge tolls, higher gas ta...

St. Croix bridge tolls, higher gas tax may be ahead

Posted in the Minneapolis Forum

Awful Truth

Saint Paul, MN

#1 Feb 18, 2013
Article by: PAT DOYLE , Star Tribune
Updated: February 16, 2013 - 10:02 PM

Commanding new power in the Legislature, DFLers look for ways to raise more money for transportation.

Searching for new funds for roads and transit, DFL leaders are eyeing tolls for the future St. Croix River bridge between Minnesota and Wisconsin.

Charging drivers as much as $3 to cross the bridge could raise enough money to pay for roughly half the construction cost.

"It's a potentially important source of revenue," said Rep. Frank Hornstein, DFL-Minneapolis, chairman of the House transportation finance committee.

"I'm very open to it," said Charlie Zelle, Gov. Mark Dayton's transportation commissioner. "I think it needs to be explored."

While there are legal and political hurdles, the bridge tolls are among several ideas under serious consideration to close a gap estimated at tens of billions of dollars for transportation funding.

Raising the gasoline tax -- the traditional source of highway funding -- is another option favored by key lawmakers, including Sen. Scott Dibble, DFL-Minneapolis, chairman of the Senate transportation and public safety committee.

Dibble was on a governor's task force that recommended raising the gas tax by 40 cents a gallon over 20 years. Dayton declined to embrace the proposal, but he hasn't ruled out supporting some kind of gas-tax increase if the DFL-controlled Legislature passes one.

"He has not said ...'I won't sign it,'" Zelle said.

Dibble said the Legislature should pass a gas-tax hike this session.

"What's politically possible is something we'll have to figure out," he said.

Hornstein said his panel will "strongly consider" an increase, adding, "If we were to do it, I would expect a much more modest proposal than what the task force proposed."

The last time the Legislature passed a gas-tax increase was in 2008. That 8.5-cent increase, phased in through 2012, generated funds for highways and bridges.

There is little enthusiasm among GOP legislators for another gas-tax increase.

"Very few members of our caucus are going to be able to support that," said Sen. John Pederson, R-St. Cloud, the ranking Republican on the Senate transportation and public safety committee, who noted that gasoline taxes hit rural drivers especially hard.

"It's too early in the session to talk about ... is it a good idea, bad idea," said Rep. Mike Beard, R-Shakopee, the ranking GOP member of the House transportation finance committee.

Transit funding sought

DFLers also are emboldened to push for greater state funding of the proposed Southwest Corridor light-rail line between downtown Minneapolis and Eden Prairie.

The federal government is expecting the state to kick in $125 million toward the $1.25 billion project, but so far the state has come through with only $7 million.

With Republicans controlling the Legislature last year, Southwest Corridor supporters sought $25 million and got just $2 million. Now that DFLers are in control, Southwest supporters are proposing $37 million to $118 million.

The money would be borrowed as part of the state bonding bill. The bonding bill needs Republican votes to pass, but will include projects that Republicans favor.

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Awful Truth

Saint Paul, MN

#2 Feb 19, 2013
It's about time - make the users pay for the bridge!

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