How Transportation Became the Unfinished Business of the Transportation Session

How Transportation Became the Unfinished Business of the Transportation Session

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By Hilary Reeves, Strategic Advancement and Communications Director

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Governor Mark Dayton addresses the crowd at the Move MN Transportation Rally at the State Capitol, April 2015. Photo credit: Val Escher.

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At the start of the 2015 legislative session, transportation funding was, for the first time, a top-tier issue in Minnesota. This was thanks in large part to the hard work of the Move MN coalition and our supporters around the state. And, throughout the so-called Transportation Session, lawmakers continued to hear our message loud and clear. Tens of thousands of Minnesotans contacted their elected officials in person, by phone, by email, by postcard petition, and rallied together at the State Capitol this spring—all to call for a long-term, multimodal solution to the transportation problems hindering families, businesses, and communities in every corner our state.

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This spring, advocates rallied together at the State Capitol in support of multimodal transportation funding. Photo credits: Val Escher.

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The Governor and Senate both put forth comprehensive proposals that would have provided new funding for all modes statewide. After introducing an initial, anemic proposal, the House followed up with a new version that allocated significantly more funding to transportation. Unfortunately, even this second House proposal was flawed in many ways, in the view of the Move MN coalition and in our view at Transit for Livable Communities. It relied on general fund shifts (effectively cutting other programs), was horrible for metro-area transit, and ignored bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure almost entirely (see note below). Still, there was hope that the conference committee between House and Senate would combine with strong leadership from the Governor to deliver a transportation package to meet the state’s urgent needs.

But no. Instead, the regular session ended in a stalemate for transportation. Senate Majority Leader Bakk’s offer to make a deal—general tax breaks in exchange for transportation tax increases—remained on the table. The House never took that deal or found another compromise, leaving Minnesotans to struggle with insufficient transit service and unsafe options for walking and bicycling, along with crumbling roads and bridges in need of repair.

This week, the Move MN campaign responded with a statewide Duct Tape Tour to highlight the incredible inadequacy of the “lights on” transportation bill that emerged from this session.

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Move MN’s Duct Tape Tour stopped in communities around the state this week, drawing attention to unresolved transportation needs. How is Minnesota supposed to fix our transportation problems without a long-term funding solution from the legislature? Think this giant roll of duct tape is enough to improve bus and transit service, make bike and pedestrian routes safer, and repair aging roads and bridges statewide? Neither do we.

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The signal achievement of the session may be that everyone agreed that the transportation need in Minnesota is large and needs action. There is still some chance that transportation could become part of a special session, especially if a tax bill comes into play.

Today, though, it is singularly frustrating that the legislature has failed to act on transportation yet again—despite your voices, despite business voices, despite editorials from around the state. It also is starkly evident that the House plan for transportation was not a vision for the whole state. No plan that purports to meets statewide needs can call for cuts to metro-area transit and fail to provide for safe bicycling and walking in all our communities.

If you are at a bus stop, know that there are plans in place to make bus service more frequent. They just await funding. The next time you see an announcement for a community meeting about a transportation project—station-area planning for light rail or redesign of local streets—know that the legislature is not providing new funding for these projects (and the case of the House, wants to limit communities’ ability to even plan for them). The next time you roll over a bridge (whether in a bus, on a bicycle, or in a car or truck) know that the backlog of bridges in need of repair is growing and that our road systems across the state are reaching their lifespan. The state needs to address its transportation needs for at least the next ten years, if not fifty. And that makes it an exciting time to think about how we want our transportation systems to change and evolve.

At the moment, however, we’re stuck in neutral and swathed in duct tape. So, what next?

Keep pushing. The upsides for access to opportunity, for job creation and economic growth, for quality of life in Minnesota are real—and worth fighting for.

Note: While the House proposal included some funding for Greater Minnesota transit and suburban transit, it actually would lead to cuts in funding for metro-area transit—at a time when transit ridership is growing AND Metro Transit is ready to implement a plan that would greatly expand bus service. Given the extensive lip service paid to our underfunded bus system, the House plan’s effective attack on metro-area transit is particularly appalling. The House proposal also ignores bicycling and walking almost entirely, again despite growing interest in these ways of getting around from seniors, millennials, and communities of all sizes that want vibrant, walkable, bikeable downtowns.

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