If you eat, you should advocate for better roads |Opinion

We all depend on each other, so let’s look out for one another

June 13, 2022 7:00 am

The author argues the Legislature is missing a huge opportunity to improve our transportation system. Photo by Henry Pan/Minnesota Reformer.

You know how lawyers say they’re practicing law and doctors say they practice medicine? I’ve been practicing farming for more than 50 years in Yellow Medicine County and I haven’t gotten it all figured out yet. I farm between Granite Falls and Hanley Falls, raising corn and soybeans.

When I started farming, corn yielded about 80 bushels to the acre. Today, my corn yields about 200 bushels to the acre. A lot of the roads we drive on today were designed and built when corn yielded less than 100 bushels to the acre and was transported to market in a single axle truck carrying 200 bushels. Now, most corn yields more than 200 bushels to the acre and is carted to market in a semi-trailer carrying 1,000 bushels.

For those who are wondering what an acre is, it’s about the size of a football field.

Many of our roads aren’t designed to handle the traffic they’re carrying today. In addition to the semis, today’s farm equipment is much bigger and heavier than 50 years ago. On one road in my neighborhood, it was unsafe for oncoming traffic to pass farm equipment. There was no shoulder on the narrow county road and the ditch was straight up and down. Following a recent redesign and reconstruction, the road is much safer and there’s room for two vehicles to pass — even when one of the vehicles is a farm tractor or self-propelled sprayer.

Seeing the difference that redesign and reconstruction made is one of the reasons I’m disappointed the Legislature went home without passing matching funds to secure infrastructure money from the federal government. I’ve read the state match ranges from 2% to 7% to leverage up to $7.3 billion in federal dollars, with $5.454 billion targeted to transportation projects. That sounds like a great deal to me. Why would Minnesota legislators pass that up when so many roads in both rural and urban Minnesota are deteriorating?

Portions of the state highways in my area — 212, 23, 67 and 59 — have been rebuilt and portions are desperately in need of fixing. The bumps, cracks and holes cause more wear-and-tear on vehicles and make driving them a two-hands-on-the-wheel-pothole-dodging adventure.

As I understand it, the federal infrastructure money can be used for all sorts of projects, from roads and bridges to ports and airports and cybersecurity and electric vehicle charging. 

By failing to pass the matching dollars, our legislators didn’t get their job done, and there’s a lot of fixing that won’t get done. It’s incredibly short-sighted.

Legislators also failed to act on a public works bonding bill. As long as I’ve been following politics, the second year of session was a bonding year. Gov. Tim Walz proposed $100 million for roads and $100 million for bridges. This investment would have helped improve our state.

You know, I may never drive on roads around Roseau or Duluth, but I think the people who live and work and raise food in those areas need good roads, too. It’s the job of state legislators to look out for the best interests of the state and make sure everyone can get safely where they need to go.

The way I look at it is if you eat, you have an interest in making sure the roads and bridges in rural Minnesota are in good shape so we can get the food from the field to the processing plant. Those of us in rural Minnesota have an interest in making sure the roads and bridges in the metro area are in good condition so we can get the food from the processing plant to the table.

We all depend on each other. Where are the statesmen and stateswomen who are willing to work together to achieve a deal that’s best for the state?

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Tim Velde
Tim Velde

Tim Velde farms between Hanley Falls and Granite Falls in Yellow Medicine County, where he raises corn and soybeans. He speaks out on issues because his grandfather told him, “The world is run by the people who show up to run it.”