Family of crash victims call for transportation funding as lawmakers debate bills

Family members of crash victims gave a poignant plea for funding to fix roads and bridges, as lawmakers discussed the two transportation bills.
House and Senate negotiators met for the first time on Wednesday to hash out the differences in their transportation bills. Right now, they're hundreds of millions of dollars apart.
Families wanted to remind them these bills aren’t just about dollars, but also about lives.

On Wednesday, 411 bright orange construction cones lined the Capitol steps. Each one symbolized a crash death on Minnesota roads in 2015, including one on Highway 14.

"My husband Scott Hodgman was coming home from work that night and was killed on that two lane stretch,” said Beth Hodgman. “I've been told that if it would have been a four-lane he would not have been killed." 

The reframing of road construction as a safety issue is part of the new tactics in finally passing a transportation package.

But lawmakers are far apart.

The House roads and bridge bill comes in at $2 billion for the next two years.

It's larger than the Senate bill, which stands at $1.3 billion.

The governor's budget calls for raising the gas tax, but on WCCO radio Wednesday, he admitted it's going nowhere.

"I don't see any sufficient support in the legislature for any kind of gas tax increase," said Dayton in the interview.

The concession pleases the chair of the House Transportation Finance Committee.

"Well, he made some remarks in a public interview that he understands that the gas tax is probably not in the cards this year and we believe it's not necessary that we have revenues available fund what the transportation needs are for the short term," said Paul Torkelson, Transportation Finance Chair

The governor says he may be willing to accept some of the funding from the general fund, but his transportation commissioner says there's plenty the governor will not accept.

"Well what he would call Draconian cuts in transit is really tough and the amount that can constitutionally dedicated,” said Charlie Zelle, MnDOT Commissioner.

The House bill essentially defunds transit, but Torkelson says it is his intention to find some money for it in conference negotiations.