County should look at sales tax to finance area highway projects

By Robert J. Lindall
GUEST COLUMN

Carver County has been named one of the best places to live in the country thanks, in part, to our thriving economy and growing population. As the county grows and develops, we need adequate infrastructure to support increased business development and additional families while maintaining the unique character of our communities.

In order to provide safe and effective transportation, the county needs to partner with cities and with the state and federal transportation departments to plan and deliver updated roads and bridges. Carver County is projected to experience a population growth from 91,042 people in 2010 to 151,720 people in 2040 with a corresponding increase in households from 32,891 in 2010 to 60,550 in 2040. The increase in population means an additional 212,000 trips per day in the region.

Fortunately, Carver County has been planning for this future and has developed a vision with input from residents and businesses that includes improved highway corridors. Outdated designs on Highways 212, 5, 41 and others can be updated to handle the growing traffic including more and more truck traffic. Currently 13-15 percent of the daily traffic on Highway 212 is heavy commercial trucks. The percentage of heavy commercial vehicles on the existing two-lane segments significantly exceeds MnDOT’s typical frequent volume threshold of 8 to 10 percent.

Highway 5 has also outgrown its original design and poses some serious safety risks as more and more cars travel in this 2-lane corridor to reach important destinations like Ridgeview Medical Center and the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum.

While the needs are obvious, the funding is not readily available to make needed investments. MnDOT is not planning any major improvements in the Highway 212 or 5 corridors for the next 20 years.

If we want to keep our transportation system from deteriorating, we need to take matters into our own hands. Carver County should follow the example of 22 other counties in Minnesota and enact a local one-half penny sales tax increase to generate funding that will allow our projects to compete with other metro area projects. That will allow the county to leverage millions of highway dollars from state and federal programs like the Corridors of Commerce, Transportation Economic Development and FASTLANES programs which all require a local match.

The funding generated from a local transportation sales tax may only be used for transportation projects that must be specifically designated by the county board. The tax must terminate when revenues raised are sufficient to finance the specified projects. This funding mechanism allows us to benefit from the thousands of visitors to Carver County who shop and recreate in our area.

Neighboring counties – Scott and Hennepin – have already enacted this sales tax and are benefiting from planned additional transportation improvements that will attract business development.

Previous investments to expand and improve US Highway 212 have resulted in significant economic development in the area including the 60-acre Chaska Creek Business Park. Since the completion of the new Highway 212 between Eden Prairie and Chaska, Chaska has emerged as one of the metro area’s most active recruiters of data centers, with four developed in the last few years. Increased transportation investments lead to a larger tax base, reducing the pressure on local property taxes to maintain our roads and bridges.

Without some action by our elected officials, important improvements to Highways 212, 5 and 41 will continue to languish. Our transportation problems will not go away – they will only become more expensive in the long run.

Robert J. Lindall is president of the Southwest Corridor Transportation Coalition.