Special session expected in Minnesota; fuel tax boost likely

| 8/6/2007

With images of one of the nation’s worst bridge collapses fresh in their minds, Minnesota legislators are calling for several steps to be taken to prevent a similar event.

State lawmakers are talking about holding a special session, joint House and Senate hearings, re-inspecting bridges and possibly reviving discussion of a fuel tax increase.

Legislators in both chambers are expected to meet this month to review bridge inspection records and other information on the condition of Minnesota’s 20,000 bridges, the Minneapolis Star Tribune reported. Gov. Tim Pawlenty also is expected to call back lawmakers for a special session after Labor Day to deal with how to come up with the state’s share of costs for rebuilding the Interstate 35W bridge in Minneapolis that collapsed Wednesday, Aug. 1, during evening rush hour.

The federal government is expected to require the state to put up at least 10 percent of the cost to rebuild the bridge that was the most heavily used in the state. It is estimated that it could take at least 18 months to reopen the span.

Congress already has asked for $250 million in federal funding to help with the rebuild effort. That amount would put the state on the hook for $25 million.

Estimates put the cost to clean up debris and replace the span at between $300 million and $500 million, the Star Tribune reported.

Pawlenty said this past weekend he might reverse his stance on a state fuel tax increase in light of the bridge collapse. In light of the bridge collapse, the Republican governor made it clear that “everything is on the table” when it comes to funding needs in the state’s transportation system. He said he is hopeful that the Democratic-led statehouse will accept some of his ideas for funding roads, bridges and mass transit.

Pawlenty vetoed legislation in 2005 and this spring to increase the state’s 20-cent-per-gallon fuel tax rate. As an alternative, he has favored borrowing to raise money for transportation.

To view other legislative activities of interest for Minnesota in 2007, click here.

– By Keith Goble, state legislative editor