Special Session Talks End, Advocacy Continues

Special Session Talks End, Advocacy Continues

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By Dave Van Hattum, Advocacy Director

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Photo credit: Val Escher

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In mid-August, special session talks between Governor Dayton and legislative leaders came to a screeching halt. Unfortunately, it wasn’t the outcome that advocates of long-term, comprehensive transportation funding were looking for.

As we wrote in the Star Tribune recently, the House Majority’s refusal to increase sustainable funding for metro-area transit was a major stumbling block throughout 2016. We’re disappointed with the stalemate, but we thank Governor Dayton and Senate Majority Leader Bakk for standing firm during negotiations. We thank them for their ongoing leadership on transportation and for ultimately refusing to strike a deal that excluded metro-area transit.

Without a special session, highly-anticipated bills for transportation, taxes, and bonding were stalled until next year. Among other issues, this left critical gaps in funding for Southwest light rail and for Orange Line bus rapid transit. At best, these projects faced severely debilitated applications for federal funds. At worst, they faced imminent shutdowns.

Despite legislative inaction, metro leaders made dramatic progress in recent weeks to move these transit projects forward. We applaud the Counties Transit Improvement Board, Metropolitan Council, and Hennepin County for agreeing to provide local funding to keep Southwest light rail ($144.5 million) and the Orange Line ($37.5 million) on track.

TLC members and allies played a major role in successfully advocating for Southwest and for the Orange Line this summer. Thanks to all for making a difference with your calls, emails, turnout, and testimony.

While rightfully excited about this progress, advocates also are acutely aware that these wins for Southwest light rail and Orange Line bus rapid transit must be complemented by a long-term increase in sustainable transit funding—or the crises will keep on coming. To build out a system of transitways across the metro—from Bottineau, Gold Line, and Riverview to Rush Line and Red Rock—we need to keep fighting. To expand and improve bus service, and safe routes for walking and bicycling, we need to keep fighting.

In the months ahead, Transit for Livable Communities and our allies in the Transportation Forward campaign will be reminding all state elected officials that they have deemed transportation funding a top priority and still haven’t delivered. Given the urgency of needs for all modes of transportation statewide, we will be calling for immediate action when the 2017 legislature convenes on January 4.