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LETTER: Thanks, Sen. Stumpf, for rural highway funding

MAHNOMEN, Minn. — As the dust settles on the 2014 Legislative Session, it is important to recognize some very positive things that were accomplished for Greater Minnesota.

One encouraging outcome was the result of the work that Sen. LeRoy Stumpf, DFL-Plummer, did this year in building recognition and funding for the Local Road Improvement Fund.

Everybody knows our roads are the lifeline that lets Greater Minnesota participate in the economic engine that fuels the state and regional economy. But the technological advances that are allowing greater yields out of our fields and forests are bottlenecked by load limits on key farm and forest-to-market roads.

Those aging roads were built to a sleepy, decades-old standard that puts an anchor on our ability to compete effectively in world markets. You might say we have an eight-track road system in a touch-screen navigation and audiophile marketplace.

We’re pleased that Stumpf, as chairman of the Capitol Investment Committee, led the effort this year to secure funding.

Twelve years ago in 2002, the Minnesota Rural Counties Caucus proposed the creation of the LRIF in recognition of the fact that the highway funding formula was woefully inadequate in keeping pace with developing economic and safety demands.

The idea was to build a sturdy, integrated and statewide system of 10-ton roads based on local input and coordinated by the Minnesota Department of Transportation’s State Aid, a system that would facilitate heavier loads and fewer trips.

Until this year — and Stumpf’s efforts — the program has been chronically underfunded.

In 2012, local government engineers submitted projects to the LRIF totaling $282 million. Those $282 million in local project needs competed for just $10 million in funds — which has been the typical allocation until this year.

In the absence of a comprehensive statewide transportation funding package that begins to adequately address the large and growing mountain of highway funding needs, Stumpf led the way this year by including $53.4 million in bonding for the LRIP.

The Minnesota Rural Counties Caucus appreciates the effort to slow the degradation of our farm and forest to market roads and is grateful for the leadership demonstrated by Stumpf this year.

Dahl, a commissioner of Mahnomen County, Minn., is chairman of the Minnesota Rural Counties