Legislative Auditor Report on MnDOT

The Legislative Auditor report on Minnesota’s State Highways and Bridges report summary makes for interesting reading. (Full report here
“MnDOT is spending more—and a greater percentage of its resources—on trunk highway road and bridge construction than it did ten years ago.
MnDOT has increased the proportion of trunk highway spending dedicated to system construction, and decreased the proportion spent on operations, research, and support. In the 2002-03 biennium, about 63 percent of department spending was for road and bridge construction. Between 2003 and 2004, MnDOT reallocated over $36 million from its operating budget to fund highway construction. By the fiscal year 2006-07 biennium, spending on trunk highway road and bridge construction had increased to 71 percent of total spending.”
later the report says:
“Overall, trunk highway project investments have not aligned with the department’s stated policy of “preservation first.”
Between fiscal years 2002 and 2007, over half of MnDOT’s spending on construction contracts for trunk highway pavements was allocated to system expansion rather than preservation. In contrast, in fiscal year 2001, only 25 percent of pavement contract spending was allocated to expansion projects.”
Of course ribbon cuttings are better politics than resurfacing, and I guess this whole debate depends on what is defined as spending, what is preservation, and operations and maintenance and what is new construction.
The Minnesota Department of Transportation. Metro Division Transportation System Plan. Technical report, MnDOT, 2001.
which I cited in Forecasting and Evaluating Network Growth implies that 21% of the total budget is spent on construction and 79% is spent on maintenance. Now there are differences (that was metro rather than statewide among them), but it should be clearer as to what spending is for capital expansion and what for capital maintenance.
As the system matures, maintenance takes an increasing share of resources (as there is more network to maintain), and new construction gets more expensive (the most cost effective projects have already been done), so one would expect more on maintenance and less on capital expansion.
That said, ride quality, which is said to be decreasing, needs to be quantified in terms of its economic value. Wearing down roads without rebuilding or properly maintaining is spending future capital (presumably it is more expensive to repair the more damaged it is), but the economic cost of the poor ride itself (a slightly bumpier ride) does not *seem* like it should matter so much, there is no evidence people go slower or waste time due to a somewhat rougher service (assuming we are talking Minnesota conditions, rather than truly decrepit roads).