Commissioner Zelle discusses Minnesota’s underfunded transportation needs

  • Sees big return on transportation investments
Mn/DOT Commissioner Zelle addresses crowd in East Central Minnesota.

Mn/DOT Commissioner Zelle addresses crowd in East Central Minnesota.

Minnesota’s top transportation official, Charles Zelle, made a stop in East Central Minnesota Thursday, Dec. 5 as a part of his statewide tour to discuss the state’s 20-year plan for transportation spending, and how it affects quality of life.

“Almost nine percent of Minnesota bridges are structurally deficient, and our state highway system pavement condition ranks 38th nationally,” said the state Department of Transportation Commissioner in front of about 40 people at Cambridge City Hall.  “Without proper transportation investments, business and industry won’t survive.”

He said people are driving more now, but because vehicles are more fuel efficient, gas tax funds don’t even keep pace with inflation and are not indexed to inflation.   Highway improvement funding options could include fuel and local and state sales taxes, vehicle registration fees, vehicle mileage-based taxes, and federal funding, according to Zelle.

The Commissioner also spoke of other highway projects around the state totaling $300 million that will be funded via the state’s new “Corridors of Commerce” program (highway bonding).    “300 million is only a down payment on a larger vision including highways and transit,” he said.

Other takeaways:

  • Half of state highway pavement is more than 50 years old and more than a third of state highway bridges are more than 50 years old.
  • The Twin Cities is expected to grow by nearly a million people by 2040, and many of the baby boomers will want transportation and transit options.
  • $30 billion for transportation is needed but there is a $12 billion identified funding gap.
  • Minnesota needs to invest in transportation to support Minnesota business growth and ensure the state continues to be an attractive location for companies to expand.

During the public comment portion, Zelle acknowledged the poor condition of State Highway 70 in Pine County, and there was some discussion about planning for a new bridge along Highway 95 through Cambridge.

Zelle was appointed Commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Transportation on Dec. 15, 2012 by Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton.  He began the job on Jan. 15, 2013.  MnDOT is the Minnesota state agency charged with managing and maintaining the state’s multi-modal transportation system.

Zelle came to MnDOT from Jefferson Lines, an intercity bus company with routes in 13 heartland states from Minnesota to Texas.  He worked there for more than 20 years, and served as President and Chief Executive Officer.  Currently he is the Chair of the Jefferson Lines Board of Directors although he is no longer an employee with any management authority.  He is recused from any matters associated with MnDOT and Jefferson Lines relationships.

Born and raised in St. Paul, Zelle received a BA from Bates College and a MBA from the Yale School of Management.