Transit for Livable Communities (TLC) says the Metropolitan Council’s new 2030 Transportation Plan doesn’t provide concrete solutions for the Twin Cities’ transportation needs. A critique posted on TLC’s web site says:
The draft plan is encouraging in its de-emphasis on highway expansion, but the strategies proposed in this draft plan are too timid, too general, and fall too far behind similar regions around the country, especially in view of the plan’s lack of a strong connection between land use and transportation.
The Met Council faces the challenge of implementing best practices in accommodating the region’s growth. According to the report, “By 2030, the Twin Cities area will be home to nearly one million more people than in 2000.”The Council outlines three barriers to progress: congestion, costs, and funding.
The 2008 Minnesota Legislature approved a transportation funding increase. But the Metro Council says it’s not enough to “fix” congestion throughout the region’s highway system. The Council projects some $40 billion would be needed to add enough highway capacity to meet expected demand over the next 25 years. To accomplish this with the state gasoline tax alone would add more than $2 per gallon to the cost of fuel.
In addition, the collapse of the I-35W Bridge led the Minnesota Legislature to commit a major portion of new highway funding dollars to the repair of other bridges around the state. “That essentially took all the oxygen out of the room in the conversation about future transportation investments,” said Council Chair Peter Bell.
Transit for Livable Communities (TLC) testified at the October 22 public hearing. Co-authors of the collaborative statement on TLC’s web site include Fresh Energy, Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy and the Sierra Club Northstar Chapter. The group asserts that the MetCouncil’s plan is not specific enough.
The group’s specific concerns include: a lack of measurable outcomes, insufficient funding for transit, insufficient attention to bicycling and walking, a lack of clarity regarding highway prioritization, and a lack of commitment to strategies that will advance more transit-supportive land use.
The transportation policy plan is updated every four years as required by the federal government. “One of the most significant provisions is that the plan must balance planned investments with revenues that are reasonably expected to be available within the time frame of the plan,” said Bonnie Kollodge, Media Relations Coordinator for the MetCouncil. “Therefore, a new revenue outlook that reflects the changes made in state law in 2008 will shape the Council’s future direction, requiring a more comprehensive long-range planning approach to investments and decision-making,” she said.
The main components of the MetCouncil’s transportation policy plan include:
• Focus on bridge investments and highway preservation;
• Focus remaining resources on maximizing existing highway capacity by investing in low-cost/high-benefit highway projects;
• Continue the commitment to doubling transit ridership and expanding the bus system; and
• Identify corridors for future investment in light rail, commuter rail and bus rapid transit.
“We had hoped to see more specific goals, bench marks, programs, and strategies,” said Barb Thoman, program consultant for TLC. “Met Council is facing an enormous deficit without really saying it’s a problem.”
Thoman says the conventional approach to congestion by adding more lanes on a highway is not working.
This is acknowledged in the draft plan: “Instead of retaining future capacity for decades, new highway lanes can fill up in a matter of months.” Yet no specific alternative solution is offered.
“Congestion is a consequence of a strong economy and land use patterns,” said Thoman. “We need more cost effective strategies to get more done such as investing in more public transit and being deliberate about land use.”
Thoman suggests the Council should look at density in specific areas and consider the statistics in transit planning. “[There’s] low density growth because they are not targeting [meaningful] investments. The money that the Council has at its disposal is not being invested well,” she said.
“If density doesn’t mean more traffic, but a business, that starts to sound more appealing for frequent transit. Families save thousands when they don’t have to have one or two cars…that kind of leadership would be welcome by communities,” said Thoman.
She drew upon the model of Portland, Oregon, a city whose population increased by 20 percent in the last 10 years. Thoman suggests the reason for this may have been due to Portland’s transit-friendly environment. “People there could live comfortably without a car because they’re in close proximity to the goods and services they want to access every day. People want that opportunity here, especially as they get older,” she said.
Thoman said there was not a huge public presence at the hearings. “Unfortunately people don’t know who the Met Council is. There’s not a big push in involving the community to think about these issues.
“We need to return to proactive, educational outreach with workshops and training sessions that provide in-depth information on best practices. That way the community could truly be involved in answering the question of ‘How do you revitalize an urban corridor?’” said Thoman.
Lauretta Dawolo Towns is a freelancer for several local community and ethnic news outlets. She is also a mentor in the Big Brothers, Big Sisters program and a consultant with the Girls in Action program at Patrick Henry High School. Towns is a resident of the McKinley neighborhood in North Minneapolis where she lives with her husband and newborn son.