Legislature made transportation a priorityST. PAUL — Motorists who see a burst of road construction in the coming years may appreciate the transportation package lawmakers approved this year, but teenage drivers may not think the new driving restrictions are very cool.
By: Scott Wente, The Republican Eagle
ST. PAUL — Motorists who see a burst of road construction in the coming years may appreciate the transportation package lawmakers approved this year, but teenage drivers may not think the new driving restrictions are very cool.
Farmers might have to find new routes to market, while commuters watching their pocketbooks may bemoan the new charges they must pay for transportation projects.
The 2008 Legislature made this an extraordinarily big year for transportation at the Capitol. Some of the changes lawmakers sought will be noticed soon, while others will be phased in gradually.
Lawmakers who put a transportation spending package funded by borrowed funds and tax and fee increases into law called it a historic investment in roads and bridges. Yet, its impact may not be apparent for at least another year.
“Some of them may not notice anything, except if they have a project in their area,” said Rep. Bernie Lieder, DFL-Crookston, the House transportation leader.
The Minnesota Department of Transportation accelerated some road and bridge projects this year, but far more construction is planned for 2009 and 2010, when the agency is scheduled to spend 25 percent and 88 percent, respectively, more than earlier planned.
The Democrat-led Legislature sent Gov. Tim Pawlenty a transportation policy bill on the session’s final day. It awaits the governor’s approval or veto.
But Pawlenty, a Republican, said he supports a key part of the legislation — additional limits for drivers who are 16 or 17. Those limits include:
• Prohibiting new drivers from driving between midnight and 5 a.m. for the first six months, although exceptions include driving between home and school and home and work, and driving with a licensed driver who is at least 25 years old.
• Limiting new drivers in their first six months to one passenger under age 20, excluding immediate family, and permitting up to three passengers under 20 during the second six months.
“Now they’re going to be in an environment where there’s not yelling and screaming in their ears” from young passengers, Senate Transportation Chairman Steve Murphy, DFL-Red Wing, said of the proposed measure’s effect.
Just over 106,000 16- and 17-year-olds had provisional driver’s licenses last year, said Katherine Burke Moore, deputy director of the Minnesota Office of Traffic Safety..
Traffic officials say Minnesota is one of only four states without such requirements.
States that have enacted similar measures have seen a 9 percent to 30 percent reduction in teen crashes. In Minnesota, about 80 teens are killed on roadways annually and another 6,000 are injured.
Farmers, too, could be affected. The bill would require farm implements to follow bridge weight limits after 2009, ending an exemption.
Agriculture groups said they supported the measure out of concern for infrastructure, but said it will force farmers to adapt.
“I think it is a significant change,” Minnesota Farm Bureau President Kevin Paap said.
“If I’ve got a bridge with a total weight limit that can’t take any good-sized trucks, I’ll have to find a different route to get my goods to market.”
A high-profile transportation proposal allowing police to stop unbuckled motorists just for that reason did not make it into law.
Minnesota already requires motorists to wear seat belts, but some lawmakers wanted to make it a primary offense.
“It’s unfortunate,” said Murphy, a leading legislative advocate for tightening the seat belt law.
That provision and one requiring children under age 8 to use child-safety seats failed amid objections, including from Minnesota House members who argued government was overstepping its role.
Murphy said he will try to pass the primary seat belt law again next year.