March 2017 Vol. 25, No. 1

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Interactive guide helps local agencies address funding gaps

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The guide provides strategies for communicating with taxpayers.
Photo: Shutterstock

A new interactive guide from the LRRB and MnDOT will help local agencies evaluate their transportation network preservation needs, communicate these needs to elected officials and the public, and select and implement strategies to address funding gaps.

The guide and tools developed in the project are based in part on the experiences of five Minnesota counties: Anoka, Dakota, Freeborn, Otter Tail, and Stearns. These counties provided a representative sampling based on various factors, including environment (urban and rural), demographics, and agency size and budget.

Investigators worked with the five pilot counties to compare the gaps in their maintenance funding to the funding they needed to manage their pavement system, determine whether the county board understands those gaps, and choose implementation strategies to narrow the funding gaps.

Structured as a decision tree, the step-by-step guide includes these steps:

  • Needs Assessment—Helps agencies define their preservation needs through a three-phase approach: an examination of existing infrastructure and the impacts of current maintenance strategies, an analysis of revenue and expenditures history and forecasts using a sketch tool, and the creation of a State of the County Highway System Report that summarizes the agency’s pavement preservation needs and the funding gap to meet those needs.
  • Preservation Strategies—Reviews eight system preservation strategies in four categories: system adjustments (such as recommending interjurisdictional transfers, changing maintenance classifications of roads, and unpaving roads); planning and programming (including transportation plans, performance-based standards, and project prioritization methodologies); revenue enhancements; and cost reduction or longer life-cycle maintenance methods.
  • Communication Strategies—Provides outreach and communication strategies for informing and obtaining buy-in from elected officials and taxpayers, with guidance for identifying communication needs and developing a communications plan, tools, and messages.
  • Lessons Learned—Reviews lessons learned by pilot counties that helped develop the system preservation guide, such as details about the strategies, the value of a data-driven process and meaningful graphics in communications, and the utility of the State of the County Highway System Report in educating stakeholders.

The guide provides links to supporting documentation, including tools for collecting revenue and expenditure data, resources for assessing a county’s current maintenance practices, sample reports, case studies, and sample communications campaigns.

After using the process presented in the guide, all five pilot counties successfully built consensus among the public and their elected officials to implement either a sales tax or wheelage tax to increase transportation funding. Each county also selected other strategies to address funding shortfalls based on their specific needs and situations.

“Creating and maintaining a dialogue with elected officials and the public have been critical,” says Sue Miller, county engineer of Freeborn County. “Because of that dialogue, we’re now seeing road and bridge funding being prioritized.”

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