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More aid to state highways, local roads proposed in omnibus transportation finance package

Assistance for hard-hit deputy registrars, additional funds for state road construction and maintenance, and a quarter-billion dollars in borrowing are included in the omnibus transportation finance bill that House Republicans unveiled Tuesday. 

Introduced as a delete-all amendment to HF4160 in the House Transportation Finance Committee, the bill is sponsored by committee chair Rep. Paul Torkelson (R-Hanska). It would provide $101 million in supplemental transportation funding in Fiscal Year 2019 and $40 million for the 2020-21 biennium, proposes $250 million in trunk highway bonding for road construction projects across the state, and contains an array of policy measures.

The committee walked through the bill during Tuesday’s hearing and is scheduled to take public testimony Wednesday afternoon. Amendments to the bill are expected to be debated Thursday, with a final committee vote on the bill planned that day.

A companion, SF3806, sponsored by Sen. Scott Newman (R-Hutchinson), awaits action by the Senate Transportation Finance and Policy Committee.

 

Supplemental funding

The proposed $101 million in 2018-19 supplemental appropriations would provide funds for projects that include:

  • $25.2 million for county state-aid highway projects;
  • $11.1 million for highway operations and maintenance;
  • $10 million for MnDOT’s Corridors of Commerce program that provides funds for stretches of roadway critical to the movement of commerce that aren’t already included in the state’s highway improvement program;
  • $9 million in ongoing funding for a deputy registrar reimbursement aid program that is proposed to be established to aid businesses impacted by the botched rollout of the state’s new vehicle registration and licensing system, known as MNLARS;
  • $7 million for the Small Cities Assistance Program;
  • $6.6 million for municipal state-aid road projects;
  • $5 million for a new Freight Rail Economic Development Program proposed in a policy section of the bill to assist freight rail lines and shippers; and
  • $2 million to the city of Rochester to purchase a new approach system for the Rochester International Airport.

 

Trunk highway bonding

HF4160 also includes $250 million in proposed trunk highway bonding. It would appropriate those proceeds to three areas:

  • $145 million to MnDOT for the Corridors of Commerce program;
  • $75 million for highway-rail grade separation projects that involve trunk highways and were identified in a 2014 legislative report on at-grade rail crossings; and
  • $30 million for a transportation facilities capital program proposed by Gov. Mark Dayton and included in the bill that would provide funds for projects that renovate, construct or extend the life of MnDOT facilities.

 

Policy proposals

A number of policy changes are also proposed. Among them are measures that would:

  • exempt sewage septic tank trucks from some weight limits on state roadways and allow for operation without a special permit;
  • make a number of changes to state statute regarding bicycles, including establishing that bicycle lanes are part of the roadway (and not a shoulder), requiring at least three feet or half a vehicle’s width of clearance when passing a bicycle (unless passing in a separate lane), and clarifying that bicycles operating on the shoulder have the same rights and duties as when operating in the roadway;
  • raise the threshold for requiring MnDOT to use competitive bidding instead of direct negotiation for maintenance or construction contracts from $150,000 to $250,000;
  • authorize deputy registrars to accept mailed vehicle registration and titling work beginning next year;
  • establish per-axle and gross vehicle weight limits for emergency vehicles operated on interstate highways, using limits established in federal law;
  • create a new Driver and Vehicle Services fund in the state treasury to hold operating and technology accounts related to DVS, and move current accounts into the new fund;
  • direct MnDOT to contact BNSF Railway regarding negotiations on extending the Northstar commuter rail route to St. Cloud, while specifying no additional state funds could be used for operations; and
  • clarify the definition of operating costs for light-rail transit in a provision specifying no state funds may be used for operating costs or ongoing maintenance of the proposed Southwest Light Rail route.

 

What’s in the bill?

The following are some bills that have been incorporated in part or in whole into the omnibus transportation finance bill:


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