Looking ahead: Republican transportation plan, budget targets due next week

The first committee deadline has passed in a flurry of bills and late-night hearings, and the 2015 session will keep picking up steam next week with the release of two key pieces to this year’s legislative puzzle.First comes the Republican transportation plan, set to be released during a 9 a.m. news conference on Monday. Funding transportation has emerged as one of the key issues of the session, and how far apart plans put forward by Gov. Mark Dayton and Senate DFLers are from what is announced by Republican leaders could have a big impact on the next two months at the Capitol.The governor and Senate have expressed support for raising the state’s gas tax to pour billions of dollars into fixing Minnesota’s roads and bridges, as well as upping a metro-area sales tax dedicated to funding mass transit projects.Republican leaders, on the other hand, have said they want to construct a package that spends existing state dollars and focuses on roads and bridges, not transit.Budget targets dueTuesday is the deadline for the House Ways and Means Committee to OK a budget resolution bill. Rep. Jim Knoblach (R-St. Cloud), committee chair, told Session Daily last week that the Monday release of Republicans’ transportation bill was one reason he expected the committee would act on the deadline day. After Tuesday, each finance committee will have a budget target — essentially, a maximum for the total spending in the bills they approve.On the floorMonday on the House floor lawmakers are scheduled to take up HF 1027, a bill sponsored by Rep. Pat Garofalo (R-Farmington) that would set a lower minimum wage for tipped employees, such as waiters, who earn $12 per hour or more in combined wages and tips in a pay period.Chris Steller contributed to this story. Continue Reading

Hiawatha/Hi-#55 Stoplight opinions wanted

Over the past few years, the City of Minneapolis and its partners made major investments in a new traffic signal management system and other equipment to slash wait times for vehicles along and crossing Hiawatha Avenue. Drivers who use Hiawatha know firsthand how traffic flow can be disrupted by the Metro Transit’s Blue Line. Nowhere else in the country can you find a fast (45 mph or faster) commuter train running parallel to a highway, forcing frequent stops to side street traffic along the way. Now, the City is reexamining traffic in light of those investments and changes to see if any additional improvements can be made.Traffic signal operation improvements along Hiawatha in 2013 included the addition of 160 in-pavement traffic detectors, the activation of a traffic signal control system that wasn’t available when the light-rail line started service in 2004 and a revision of traffic signal sequences. These investments drastically improved traffic flow with average delays decreased by 32 percent and the number of vehicles waiting two minutes or longer cut in half.This spring the City of Minneapolis will reexamine the systems to see if additional adjustments could further improve traffic signal operation affected by the Blue Line. Continue Reading

The more cyclists, the better; West Bank nonprofit gives locals a chance at bicycling

After a month of studying and repairing bicycles, two people will ride away from a small shop near the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood on free bikes.A mile south of the West Bank, the nonprofit SPOKES Bike Walk Connect center began its Earn-A-Bike program on Saturday. The program, now in its third year, consists of a four-week course aimed at getting community members who might not otherwise be able to afford a bike on two wheels.SPOKES attracts participants from around the Twin Cities area, including Cedar-Riverside residents and students from the University of Minnesota and Augsburg College.Program manager Ana Begej said Metro Transit makes substantial bicycle donations to the organization, which hosts multiple projects like the Earn-A-Bike program, bike-riding classes and open shop time.Brad Carlson, a volunteer with the group, punched a hole into a tire tube on Saturday so that Augsburg chemistry senior and fellow volunteer Ben Swanson could teach two students to repair it.Swanson said volunteering at SPOKES has helped him learn and dive into something outside of his area of expertise.“It opened up a world outside of chemistry for me,” he said.Swanson said he had planned to apply for graduate school and search for a job after he graduates this summer but now wants to ride a bike to Maine.Carlson said he tries spending as much time as he can in the little workspace, which is filled with hundreds of broken bikes.Before he was a volunteer, the program gave Carlson a mode of transportation after he overcame homelessness.“I come here, and I have a purpose,” he said.With grease-covered hands, Carlson described the different parts of a bicycle and what function each serves.One of the two students at Saturday’s program was Wondey Geta, 40, who traveled from Columbia Heights, Minn., to begin the monthslong process of earning his first bike in more than a decade, he said.“These guys are doing something that I’m drawn to,” he said, adding that he plans to volunteer with the center after he completes the four volunteer hours the program requires.University of Minnesota graduate Joshua Weichsel sat in the storefront of the Hub Bike Co-op Mini-Store, which rents space in the SPOKES building, to sell the organization’s repaired bikes on Saturday afternoon.Each bike sold at the Hub Mini-Store was repaired just a few feet away by SPOKES volunteers.Funds from the bike sales are split between the two organizations, Weichsel said. SPOKES gets 70 percent of each sale, while 30 percent goes to the Hub.Used bikes make up about 25 percent of SPOKES’ income, program manager Begej said.“Our goal isn’t to make money. It’s to serve an underserved area,” Weichsel said. “The more people on bikes, the better.” Continue Reading

Downtown East Commons is a Blank Slate, Except for the Vikings. And the Traffic.

[You can see the original post here: http://streets.mn/2015/02/27/downtown-east-commons-is-a-blank-slate-except-for-the-vikings-and-the-traffic/]On Tuesday night, a healthy crowd of local downtown residents and other interested parties gathered in the rustic lobby of the Mill City Museum for the first of several public meetings about the forthcoming Downtown East Commons park. It was a fun atmosphere, with the palpable enthusiasm that comes with the chance to shape big changes in the place where you live. There were also cookies.There were two purposes to the meeting. The first was to give locals the chance to hear from the landscape architecture firm chosen by the city, Hargreaves Associates. The presentation given by Hargreaves’ President Mary Margaret Jones was well received, and it’s clear that the city has made an able hire. Continue Reading

Hennepin, Ramsey counties excluded from plan to redirect funds for roads

The House’s rural-urban divide took a big city vs. suburban turn Wednesday with the House Transportation Policy and Finance Committee giving its OK to a bill that would reallocate millions of dollars in sales tax revenue to all but the state’s two most populous counties. HF710, sponsored by Rep. Jon Koznick (R-Lakeville), would move $32 million in sales tax collected on motor vehicle leases from the General Fund and put it toward Greater Minnesota transit and to the County State-Aid Highway Fund for use on metro area roads — except in Hennepin and Ramsey counties.Suburban residents have been “paying more than their fair share” toward metropolitan transportation projects, Koznick said, many of them in the state’s two counties that are home to Minneapolis and St. Paul.Redirecting proceeds from the motor vehicle lease sales tax, he continued, would provide more funding for suburban transportation infrastructure and rural transit needs “without higher taxes or higher fees.”Current state law dictates the first $32 million of revenues collected from the tax each year are deposited in the General Fund. The remainder is split evenly between the County State-Aid Highway Fund and the Greater Minnesota transit account.Approved by the committee and sent to the House Taxes Committee, Koznick’s bill would split those reallocated funds evenly between rural transit and county state-aid highways in the Twin Cities’ “collar counties.”There is no Senate companion.Some members took exception to the exclusion of the state’s most populous counties, with Rep. Clark Johnson (DFL-North Mankato) saying the move pitted one part of the state against another for much-needed transportation funding. Rep. Ron Erhardt (DFL-Edina), whose district lies entirely within Hennepin County, said much of the leased vehicle sales tax revenue is generated in Hennepin and Ramsey counties. To exclude them from the reallocated tax revenue, he said, “That’s baloney.”“You say, ‘We’ve been paying for it,’” Erhardt told Koznick. Continue Reading

Broad coalition ramps up pressure for action on transportation

 Concerned that state lawmakers won’t act to address Minnesota’s transportation needs, advocates delivered thousands of signatures to the state Capitol Feb. 12, after hearing a call to action from Governor Mark Dayton.“The real question comes down to: What kind of Minnesota do we want in 10 years?” Dayton asked a packed room where members of The Transportation Alliance and MoveMn had gathered for Transportation Day. The groups include labor unions, businesses, local governments and community organizations from across the state.“If you’re willing to accept things getting worse in 10 years . . . Continue Reading