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Progressive Politics in Minnesota, the Nation, and the World

Think Small Govt MN House GOP Can Fix MN Transportation Needs?

Category: Transportation
Posted: 11/16/14 02:13, Edited: 11/16/14 02:14

by Dave Mindeman

I grew up on a farm in southeastern North Dakota. A real rural area. Middle of nowhere really. My brother and his family still live on the homestead. He never gave up on life in the wide open spaces.

When I go to visit, I head out on Interstate 94 all the way to Breckenridge, Minnesota. Then I take a 4 lane county road west for about 10 miles and hook up with Interstate 29 heading north. I take an exit that indicates I am near Galchutt, North Dakota....although you won't see it from the interchange and if you did drive the 3 or 4 miles to get to it, you might not recognize it as a town.

But I head west on that county road - 2 lane highway now - for about another 8 miles. As I get close to the farm the pavement stops. And the last 3 miles changes to a narrow gravel road with the dust and kicked up stones that go with it.

I imagine many Twin Citians have never even driven on a gravel road. It is a pretty unique rural activity and farmers navigate them all the time..going to and from their fields.

That gravel road has been there for a long, long time. It kinda gets maintained by a local with a grader. Paid by the county. Not much I would imagine. And it is a pretty tough job in the winter.

For years my brother has been waiting for that road to get paved. A lot of the cross connecting points have been....but this particular road still holds out for old school.

Probably hard for the county to justify paving it. There are only about 10 or 12 farms along that stretch between county roads. And there isn't much indication that those numbers are going to grow any time soon.

So...if you are a small government person....who wants to prioritize....that road is probably going to stay gravel for the foreseeable future.

That is one of the reasons that I remain skeptical that the new Minnesota GOP House is going to follow through on rewarding greater Minnesota after that region gave them the political wins to take back majority control.

Transportation is a big deal in rural America. It is the connection they have to the outside world. There aren't any big city snowplows out there when a blizzard hits. Those farmsteads aren't a high priority for road clearing when the weather demands action.

Small government wants efficiency and small government puts 10 farms on a gravel road as a low priority project that can wait...and wait...and wait.

Small government and budget cuts are not friendly to rural America. They don't have the population numbers to make demands and the money needed to invest in rural areas is pretty hefty to justify that need.

So what happens? The MN GOP House needs to reward greater Minnesota for the faith placed in them. Roads and bridges? Yes. High priority? Yes. But it would seem that it needs to be done without taxes or new revenue. At least that is what they keep telling us.

So what does that mean? Well, I hate to tell the suburbs this, but that means you suburbanites can kiss those transit projects goodbye. Bus Rapid Transit....Light Rail....increased bus services....or even that massive interchange fix that has been needed for years...yeah, all that stuff is going to disappear - in a cloud of gravel dust and asphalt.

Now, I do not begrudge the needs of greater Minnesota. There is a lot of work to do out there. But the idea that the small government, prioritizing Republicans are going to satisfy the huge transportation needs of a growing and vital Minnesota economy is...well....difficult to fathom.

Frankly, I think any real success on that has about as much chance as that gravel road in rural North Dakota has of getting paved.
comments (1) permalink

Transportation Languishes - Potential Unrealized

Category: Transportation
Posted: 07/06/14 01:35

by Dave Mindeman

It is very frustrating to watch the soap opera like saga of the movement on light rail in the Twin Cities Metro. The Southwest LRT is a mess of turf battles and cost increases....with no end in sight.

Now we are already getting grousing from Dakota County about too much emphasis on the west metro.....and Dakota is not getting its "fair share".

Yes, light rail is a big investment. And big investments always have critics. But half way measures are the problem here. Its like a relationship where both parties are afraid to commit.

Each time we open a segment on light rail, the ridership exceeds projections - even with the numerous restraints we put on the system during the building process. And development always follows...with big numbers.

Yet, there is this constant dragging of feet and gnashing of teeth. Are we just going to stop here? Are we going to let a thriving Metro economy make do with 20th century transportation?

When it comes to Dakota County, the headwinds are only going to get worse. Former Republican Senator Chris Gerlach is on the current board and recently retired Mary Liz Holberg is going to seek a position on the board as well. Both have been staunch opponents of light rail in the past and presumably will continue to be in the future - only with a little more inside clout now.

It was Gerlach who talked the south metro into a smaller investment in Bus Rapid Transit - a line that runs from Apple Valley to the Mall of America. And frankly, it has been a disappointment with slow completion on transit stops and times that are only slightly faster than regular buses. BRT helps with increasing passenger numbers per unit but actually increases the wear and tear on the Cedar Ave/Hwy 77 road corridor.

If a longer view had prevailed, maybe the BRT funds could have been diverted to LRT on the Robert Street Corridor along Hwy 52. That would have given the South Metro a more direct link to St. Paul and the Central Corridor. And given more access to key downtown Mpls/StP destinations.

Light Rail is a big investment with a long range plan - but we continue to think in piecemeal terms. Like I said, Southwest is caught up in turf battles which only delay the project and increase the costs.

The big picture is to go all in and move on a system that circles the Metro and connects to all the major bus routes that enter the key city centers. If we can make it easy and convenient for people to travel the metro without cars, then we can realize the full benefits of an LRT system.

A full project is going to take some serious political will to make it happen. I don't see much of that out there. The ideas are tentative and wilt in the face of the cost investments needed.

But we can't just stand still. We have investments already made that need to be brought to fruition and we have unrealized future benefits waiting to be drawn upon.

Strong action and vision are required - somebody please take it on.
comments (0) permalink

Light Rail And Development - A Billion Dollar Duo

Category: Transportation
Posted: 05/15/14 03:44

by Dave Mindeman

Light rail projects are never big favorites with Republicans. They are expensive to build and generally require ongoing subsidies to keep them going.

So why are they so important? Unlike roads (which are heavily subsidized as well), rail moves people more efficiently. It is cleaner and not subject to the daily parking lot traffic jams.

But the most important aspect of light rail that Republicans should appreciate, but never mention, is development.

The Green Line is going to open next month - but before it transports one passenger it has opened up redevelopment along the line to the tune of $2.5 billion. Yes, billion with a "B".

This corridor will spur growth between the two cities. It will increase property tax revenue and open up retail sales with the appropriate sales tax tail.

Yes, light rail may be subsidized but it has a predictable movement of people that spur developers into action. A rail corridor promotes growth and brings in stable populations. A description that business sees as big dollar signs.

Republicans continue to fight light rail at every opportunity - but you won't find the chamber joining them much. They see dollar signs in the air and economic growth on the ground.

Rail is still the future of the metro area - whether the GOP gets on the train or not.
comments (0) permalink
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