YOUR TURN | Tough choices on transportation policy

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The Story: The Civic Caucus, a local civic group, published a transportation report in April, urging much stronger leadership by the governor and legislature on transportation issues. The Civic Caucus said that terribly important questions are not being addressed:

Today’s main transportation problem is lack of leadership. We must have a statewide comprehensive transportation plan and budget. Projects that are undertaken within the budget should relate to reasonable estimates of revenue and should serve statewide priorities and objectives. Our challenge, with our fragmented system, is who should assume responsibility and provide the needed leadership. The state has highly qualified transportation staffs at various levels. The issue isn’t professional competence. The issue is policy leadership.

We want your input — please add a comment below. We’ll move your comments up into the article during the first week. (Comments made after the first week will remain in the comment section.)

What’s at stake: Billions of dollars will be invested over the next 20-plus years throughout the state on rail, buses, and roads; for freight, for passengers; for ongoing maintenance, for new construction; for fares, for operating subsidies; for metro, for greater Minnesota. Among the competing transportation policy options are plans and/or proposals for:

• Ultra-high speed rail to Chicago
• High speed rail to Duluth
• Commuter rail to St. Cloud
• Light rail (LRT) within the metro area
• Streetcars in the downtowns
• More roads with heavy-load capacity to small towns
• Keeping existing roads in decent shape
• Expansion of congested freeways in the metro area
• More improvements on city streets

An incredibly-fractionated set of organizations and agencies are making decisions, without any overall plan.

Not that there’s any shortage of plans. MnDOT and the Metropolitan Council have been hard at work compiling growing lists of needs and preparing detailed descriptions of hopes and expectations for the next 20 years. MnDOT illustrates what can happen without additional funding, as well as outlining what could happen with more revenue. For the MnDOT plan, see: http://www.dot.state.mn.us/planning/stateplan/download.html. For the Council plan see: http://www.metrocouncil.org/planning/transportation/tpp/2004/TPP04Chapter4_Final.pdf


How can citizens respond/participate? Post your comments below on all or some of the following questions:

What is the Civic Caucus?
The Civic Caucus, founded in 1950 by four friends who had met at the University of Minnesota, works to “stimulate and maintain involvement of people in public affairs.” In 2008, the Star Tribune called the Civic Caucus “a Minnesota e-group of senior policy wonks.”

• What is your feeling about the Civic Caucus central recommendation that the Governor and Legislature prepare a comprehensive transportation budget, covering encompassing all transportation revenues, fully integrating road and rail, for capital and operating expense, for the short-term and the long term?

• Which proposals for rail seem to merit higher priority? Ultra-high speed to Chicago? High speed to Duluth? Commuter rail to St. Cloud? Light rail (LRT) within the metro area? Streetcars in the downtowns?

• Which proposals for roads seem to merit higher priority? More roads with heavy-load capacity to small towns? Keeping existing roads in decent shape? Expansion of congested freeways in the metro area? More improvements on city streets?

A few responses

From Response Page – Transportation Report Draft

Al Quie served Minnesota in Congress from 1958-1979 and as governor from 1979-1983. Government services will always bring out special interests. Reorganization of government structure is necessary from time to time and now in transportation again. When I became Governor, the Highway Department had been changed into the Department of Transportation and given other modes of transportation responsibilities. It did not work because Commissioners were not respected by the old highway milieu in the Department. Therefore, I picked Dick Braun who had excellent highway credentials and respect, but had gone on to study planning and got respect from the other transportation areas. The moral of this story is the success in reorganization is dependent on the caliber of the Governor’s choice of Commissioner whose vision and people skills can make a consolidated department work. You have brought forth excellent ideas but simple principles are necessary, like, 1) the governor deals with only one person in all transportation budgeting and planning and that person must already be respected in the broad field for his/her knowledge, integrity and conflict resolution. 2) the legislature should depend on a new bipartisan joint committee of only members who have the same qualities as the commissioner.

Set value principles like: a. the Minneapolis/St. Paul metro area is the center of the state; b. the most important transportation concerns are within the metro area and to and from all cities that will be over 100,000 population in 10 years. People can come together on simple, basic value principles. Without it they begin right off fighting for their own interests which reorganization structure by itself cannot solve.

Bill Hamm Metro folks are desperate to get rail included at an equal rate so they can force the whole state to pay for a rail system that will never turn a profit. I want highway funding totally separate from your precious rail in every way possible. This proposal strongly demonstrates a central planning model that will again divide and conquer rural Minnesota and keep us and our roads effectively on the bottom of the list forever.

David Broden is a consultant to the defense industry and chair of the armament division of the National Defense Industrial Association. He is active in the Republican Party. Transportation must be one of the central topic forces in government and clearly need to be integrated across the considerations for jobs, education, environment, public safety etc. Further the rural vs. urban balance must be maintained and strengthened. Only with authority for planning and implementation at the state level and linking the various key elements within state planning and objectives can a transportation plan serving the people of Minnesota, the jobs of Minnesota, industry, and enabling effective education, and ensuring public safety be realized.


Join the discussion! Add your comment below.

Sheldon Gitis: Expanding Congestion

Expansion of congested freeways in the metro area is an expansion of congested freeways in the metro area. The I394 project created three of the worst bottlenecks in the State the day it opened. Every expansion of the mess has created a bigger mess. Mass transit and reduced driving is the only solution to road congestion.

Keep existing roads in decent shape or, if it’s too costly to do so, shut ‘em down. No additional pavement should be constructed until it is demonstrated that the existing pavement can be maintained.

David: A mono rail system along the freeways and river

If this were not a twin cities, transportation would be easier. All roads and transit would lead to a central hub like spokes on a wheel. But with Twin Cities, commuters face a problem. I would like to be able to board transit in North Mpls that would quickly get me to St Paul. Journeys like this are possible in many cities in the world….there you do not have to rely on a car.

So, use some visionary thinking. Put in a mono-rail around the cities on I694 and I494.
Put a mono rail along I94 or along the Mississippi.

Disney world/Epcot center can transport millions. The MN zoo has a small monorail. TIt could bring Mps St Paul into the 21st century. But planners need to think big. Think futuristic. Imagine traveling on a monorail with stations spaced along the major intersections.

Jay Gabler: Monorail!
AMEN!

Paul Gilje is a coordinator for the Civic Caucus. He has worked as a staff writer for the Minneapolis Star (1960-64), for the Citizens League (1964-88) and more recently in administration and stewardship for Presbyterian Church organizations.

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