The County State Aid Highway (CSAH) system was created from the 1957 amendment to the Minnesota Constitution. This amendment established a Highway Users Tax Distribution Fund that required all fuel tax and motor vehicle fees to be spent on roads. In this amendment, twenty-nine percent of the revenue received by the state was to be given to counties for maintenance and construction of road in the county and municipalities smaller than 5,000 people (municipalities greater than 5,000 people receive separate aid).
Roads eligible for CSAH designation must meet three criteria. According to the key program concepts section in the 2013 CSAH Distribution Data book, a community interest highway is eligible for state-aid funding if it
A. is projected to carry a relatively heavier traffic volume or is functionally classified as a collector or arterial
B. connects towns, communities, shipping points, and markets within a county or in adjacent counties; provides access to rural churches, schools, community meeting halls, industrial areas, state institutions, and recreational areas; serves as a principal rural mail route and school bus route; or connects the points of major traffic interest, parks, parkways, or recreational areas within an urban municipality
C. provides an integrated and coordinated highway and street system affording, within practical limits, a state-aid highway network consistent with projected traffic demands.
In 2008, the apportionment formula was adjusted. Prior to the change, the twenty-nine percent would be distributed with ten percent allocated equally to all counties, ten percent allocated proportionally based on motor vehicles in the county, thirty percent proportionally based on lane miles, and fifty percent based on need. After 2008, the formula was adjusted. Raising the gasoline tax and the motor vehicle registration fees expanded the revenue source. This new revenue source (five cents of the gas tax and the difference between the motor vehicle fees after the increase) was to be designated as the excess sum, to be distributed proportionally based. Forty percent of the excess sum would be allocated based on the number of registered motor vehicles and sixty percent based on the construction needs of the county.
The changes were designed to address the perceived rural bias. Only ten percent of the previous formula was based on a proportion related to population, and thus users. Additionally, thirty percent of the apportionment was based on lane miles, increasing the bias to large rural counties in out-state Minnesota. The excess sum formula is biased towards urban counties because it’s apportioned proportionally. Steven Dornfeld’s “Minnesota’s County Highway Funding System Supports Roads to Nowhere” compares Alaska’s Bridge to Nowhere to maintaining roads in out-state Minnesota.
Minnesota’s CSAH is relatively unique. Most states have some county aid program but they lack the requirements and complex formula that Minnesota uses. North Dakota distributes their Highway Tax Distribution fund based on the proportion of vehicle registrations in the county. The funds can only be used for construction, reconstruction, repair and maintenance of public highways and their debts. Wisconsin has an aid program call the General Transportation Aid. Counties receive their share of aid based on the total amount of funding as approved by the state legislature and the average cost of eligible roadwork activities from a previous sixy-year period (Wisconsin DOT, 2010).
Minnesota’s CSAH has good intentions to ensure that Minnesota roads maintain a certain quality. Unfortunately, current revenue does not match needs. If Minnesota wants to maintain it’s massive road network, it will need to increase funding or face the politically unpopular move of devolving roads or go on a pavement diet. Even with funding that is short of the desired levels, the formula leaves much to be desired. Because of the stark divide between the urban and rural counties in Minnesota, any new formula will have to balance funding needs with safety, available transportation alternatives, and economic viability.
Association of Minnesota Counties. (July, 2002). Transportation FYI. Retrieved May 10, 2013 from http://www.mncounties.org/Publications/FYIs/PDF/Transportation08.pdf
Association of Minnesota Counties. (May, 2013). CSAH Distribution Formula. Retrieved May 10, 2013 from http://www.mncounties.org/Intergovernmental_Services/AMCpositionCSAH%20Distribution%20Formula_30APR13.pdf.
Dornfeld, Steven. (August, 2011). Minnesota’s county highway funding system supports roads to nowhere. Retrieved May 10, 2013 from http://www.minnpost.com/politics-policy/2011/08/minnesotas-county-highway-funding-system-supports-roads-nowhere
Kuennen, Tom. (March, 2010). At A Crossroads: The fate of our secondary roads may be in the balance. Better Roads 80 (3), 12-21. Retrieved from http://www.betterroads.com/roadscience-2/
Minnesota Department of Transportation. (January, 2013). 2013 CSAH Distribution Data. Retrieved May 10, 2013 from http://www.dot.state.mn.us/stateaid/CSAH/CSAHBooks/csah_winter_2013.pdf
Minnesota House Research Department. (April, 2012). Short Subjects: County State-Aid Highway System. Retrieved May 10, 2013 from http://www.house.leg.state.mn.us/hrd/pubs/ss/sscsah.pdf
North Dakota Department of Transportation. (December, 2012). North Dakota Transportation Handbook. Retrieved May 10, 2013 from http://www.dot.nd.gov/divisions/exec/docs/transportation-hdbk.pdf
North Dakota Legislative Council. (July, 2009). Highway Tax Distribution Fund: Sources and Uses of Funds. Retrieved May 10, 2013 from http://www.legis.nd.gov/assembly/61-2009/docs/pdf/19245appendix.pdf
Olson, Dan. (September, 2004). “Minnesota’s roads are wearing out.” Retrieved May 10, 2013 from http://news.minnesota.publicradio.org/features/2004/09/23_olsond_roads/
State of North Dakota. (nd). Century Code Chapter 54-27. Retrieved May 10, 2013 from http://www.legis.nd.gov/cencode/t54c27.pdf?20130514130610
State of North Dakota. (nd). North Dakota State Constitution, Article X, Section 11. Retrieved May 10, 2013 from http://www.legis.nd.gov/files/constitution/ArticleXFinanceandPublicDebt.pdf?20130514130910