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Legislative Audit Commission

Minutes

February 19, 2008

Members Present:

Representative Sondra Erickson    Senator Don Betzold
Representative Rick Hansen Senator David Hann
Representative Aaron Peterson Senator James Metzen
Representative Steve Simon Senator Ann Rest

Members Absent:

Representative Michael Beard    Senator Joe Gimse
Representative Connie Ruth Senator Claire Robling

The Legislative Audit Commission meeting was called to order by Representative Rick Hansen, Chair, at 12:12 p.m.  The purpose of the meeting was to release the program evaluation State Highways and Bridges.

Representative Hansen introduced Mr. Jim Nobles.  Mr. Nobles explained that after the I-35W bridge collapsed on August 1, 2007, the Legislative Audit Commission directed the Office of the Legislative Auditor (OLA) to evaluate the state of the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT).  He said that although there are a few bright spots, the overall picture at MnDOT is grim.  Mr. Nobles introduced Deb Junod, project manager of the evaluation, to give a full presentation.

Ms. Junod said that in the past five years (1) trunk highway pavement conditions have worsened and are predicted to continue to decline; and (2) overall, trunk highway bridge conditions have improved, although there are some exceptions.  Even though MnDOT’s investment management practices have improved since the 1997 OLA report, some weaknesses remain.  The evaluation recommends that MnDOT should provide funds necessary to meet frequency requirements for fracture critical bridges; document postinspection bridge maintenance decisions; and provide additional bridge maintenance staffing resources, as needed.  Also, MnDOT should (1) ensure that projects slated for the trunk highway construction program align with the department’s priorities and can realistically be delivered within projected funding; and (2) adopt financial management policies on use of debt financing.  Finally, MnDOT should present to the Legislature the implications of current financial projections. 

Representative Hansen introduced Commissioner Carol Molnau to discuss the Minnesota Department of Transportation’s response to the evaluation.  Commissioner Molnau said that MnDOT has had a long-term and good-standing relationship with the OLA and appreciates the evaluation.  Commissioner Molnau said that this was the first year that the gas tax was below the previous year, which shows that it is not an aggressive tax to use or rely on to help fund transportation maintenance.  She said MnDOT meets with other state departments of transportation on a regular basis to exchange ideas on how to preserve highways and bridges.  She also noted that Minnesota is one of the highest ranking states for its level of bridge maintenance and preservation, and it also ranks fairly high for the condition of its road surfaces.  Commissioner Molnau said that Minnesota needs to be looking at other ways to finance state highways and bridges.  Representative Hansen said that since Senator Metzen had to leave early, he wanted to mention for him that the property tax might be a way of funding highways and bridges maintenance. 

With no further business, Representative Hansen adjourned the meeting at 1:35 p.m.

 

_______________________________________
Representative Rick Hansen, Chair

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Shelly Watterud, Recording Secretary

 

Office of the Legislative Auditor ♦ Room 140, 658 Cedar St., St. Paul, MN 55155