A transit plan worth supporting

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During the last several years, our region has made important strides toward improving our transit system, providing new transportation options and slowing the growth in traffic congestion.

In addition to completing the Hiawatha light rail transit line, we’ve moved forward on plans for commuter rail service in the Northstar corridor, and bus rapid transit in the Cedar Avenue and Bottineau Boulevard corridors. These facilities are all part of the Council’s 2030 plan to expand our transit system and double ridership.

This progress would not have been possible without the support of Gov. Tim Pawlenty and legislative approval of our state bonding requests. Nonetheless, it is clear that the long-term success of our efforts will not be assured until our region obtains an adequate, predictable and reliable source of funding for transit.

For this reason, I believe it is critical that voters approve the proposed constitutional amendment that will be on the ballot this fall. As most of you know, the amendment would dedicate 60 percent of the revenues from the Motor Vehicle Excise Tax to highways and 40 percent to transit.

According to the latest report from the Texas Transportation Institute, the average Twin Cities commuter spends 43 hours per year stuck in traffic – at an average cost of $722 per commuter. The price tag is far greater for businesses that are trying to get their goods to market. Between 1980 and 2000, the daily traffic volumes on many of our regionís highways more than doubled! It’s no surprise that congestion continues to rank as the No. 1 problem confronting our region, according to our annual survey of metro area residents.

Like major highway projects, transit improvements are very capital-intensive. A proposed light-rail transit line between downtown St. Paul and downtown Minneapolis would cost $840 million, with half of that amount coming from state and local sources.

The proposed constitutional amendment would help fund the construction and operation of such transit facilities. When fully implemented, the amendment would provide an additional $120 million a year for transit capital and operating purposes. It also would accelerate the construction of dozens of major highway improvements that have been onthe drawing boards for years.

The vote this fall represents an opportunity for our state and region to end the political gridlock and address critical transportation needs.

_Peter Bell is chair of the Metropolitan Council_.

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