Thursday, April 28, 2011

Cash for CSAH

Of Minnesota's 45,000+ miles of county roads 30,376 of these miles are designated as a County State Aid Highway (CSAH). (1) Physically, CSAH and regular county roads are the same. The difference is that CSAH routes are partly financed by the state and county roads by local property taxes. Elegibility for CSAH status depends on how busy it is and its importance. CSAH funds are distributed from the Highway User Tax Distribution Fund (HUTDF) which also finances all state highways and a portion of city routes. The fund is supported by motor fuel taxes, vehicle sales taxes and vehicle registration fees. For disbursements, the HUTDF is divided into two parts. Five percent is set aside for discretionary spending as determined by the legislature and 95% is divided by constitutionally set percentages. (2) State roads receive 62%, CSAH routes receive 29% and select local routes in cities of 5,000+ residents receive 9%. (3) The local road aid is distributed similarly to the CSAH system.
The 29% of the 95% for CSAH aid is divided between counties by two sum formulas. Careful consideration is taken as counties differ greatly. For example, Hennepin County has 1.12 million residents and Traverse has 3,799. (4) The first is the apportionment sum formula. This sum amounted to $325.6 million in 2010, or about 80% of the CSAH total. (5) The apportionment sum is distributed based on multiple factors. These include:

  • 10% divided equally to all counties

  • 10% divided proportionately by the number of motor vehicles in the county

  • 30% divided proportionately by the CSAH lane miles (1 mile of 4-lane road=4 lanes miles)

  • 50% divided by need

The need portion of the apportionment sum is determined by factors including CSAH miles, resident population, money needed to maintain roads at MnDOT standards and the cost of constructing the county's entire CSAH system over a 25 year period. (6)

The second portion of distributed CSAH aid is the excess sum which is 40% proportionately based on motor vehicle registrations and 60% proportionately based on needs as described above. This sum amounted to $81.5 million in 2010, or 20% of the distributed CSAH aid. (5) Excess sum distributions are more based on the number of vehicles while the apportionment sum emphasizes road mileage.

So how is the state of the CSAH system? Like all roads, funding is tight as inflation eats away at fixed-rate tax revenues. The good news is there is increased funding in the works. In 2006, voters approved a constitutional amendment requiring all motor vehicle sales taxes be put to transportation uses including 60% to the HUTDF. This is a gradual increase each year until full implementation in 2012 as shown below. (7) Another boost is the 2008 Transportation Bill. This increases multiple taxes including the metro sales tax, the motor fuel tax and registration fees. Some of these are increased over multiple years. It is many of these new revenues which finance the excess sum distributions.
Is the new cash enough? Unfortunately No. High gas prices and a slow economy have eroded many tax revenues. More tax revenue is needed, but in this political climate, it's hardly feasible.

8. Wikipedia, 2011 (county shield graphics)

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