here for PDF format
Participant Responses to This
of Meeting with Peter McLaughlin
Civic Caucus, 8301
Creekside Circle, Bloomington, MN 55437
Friday, March 28,
speaker: Peter McLaughlin,
Hennepin County Commissioner and chair, Hennepin County Regional Rail
Johnson, chair; Chuck Clay, Bill Frenzel (by phone), Paul Gilje, Jim
Hetland, and Wayne Popham (by phone)
Context of the meeting--The
Civic Caucus is devoting some of its meetings to a review of how
priorities are set for major transportation projects between highways and
transit and among jurisdictions, geographical areas, and funding sources.
Today we're meeting with a representative of the largest county in the
state, who also is a leader of a new transitways initiative by
metropolitan area counties.
Welcome and introduction--Verne
and Paul introduced Peter McLaughlin, chair of the Hennepin County
Regional Rail Authority since 1993, and a Hennepin County Commissioner.
McLaughlin, a native of Pennsylvania, has a Bachelor's degree from
Princeton University, 1971, and a master's degree from the Humphrey School
of Public Affairs, University of Minnesota. After serving three years as
aide to the mayor of Trenton, NJ, McLaughlin moved to Minnesota in 1975.
He worked for the Minneapolis Planning Department, for the Urban Coalition
of Minneapolis, and for the Minneapolis Community Business Employment
Alliance. He was a Minnesota State Representative from 1985 to 1990.
Since 1991 he has been a Hennepin County Commissioner.
Comments and discussion--During
McLaughlin's comments and in discussion with the Civic Caucus, the
following points were raised:
1. Filling a need for leadership on mass
transit--McLaughlin said that when he was elected to the
Legislature in 1985 he asked to be on the Transportation Committee, and
when the Hennepin County Rail Authority was set up in 1993, he became its
chair and still serves in that role. A critical need was present for a
guaranteed revenue source for transit so that Light Rail Transit (LRT) and
commuter rail could be built in the Twin Cities area, he said. Ten
years ago the first $40 million was provided for the Hiawatha LRT line,
followed by another $60 million, which was enough to get the project off
the ground. We're also seeing commuter rail, with an expected start of
the North Star line to Big Lake in the fall of 2009. And the Legislature
has now provided the counties with a dedicated revenue stream, a quarter
of penny on the sales tax, which should produce very close to $100 million
The Hiawatha LRT line
connects downtown Minneapolis, the University of Minnesota, the airport
and the Mall of America. It might not be your No. 1 line for other
purposes, such as relieving congestion, but it was pragmatic and do-able,
McLaughlin said. The right-of-way was available.
2. Support for sales tax fund--McLaughlin
discussed legislation that has been passed by the 2008 Legislature
allowing the seven metro counties to increase the sales tax by a quarter
of a penny for "transitways". This language means that the funds may be
used for capital and operating purposes on commuter rail, LRT, or
exclusive bus ways. The funds may not be used for regular route bus
service. If all seven counties approve, about $112 million would be
available from the sales tax annually. Scott and Carver Counties have
said no, and a vote in Washington County is uncertain, but even with those
three opt out, the "big four" counties, Hennepin, Ramsey, Dakota, and
Anoka, would produce about 90 percent of the money, with about 85 percent
of the population. (Note to readers: only Scott and Carver counties
voted no; the other five all voted to participate.)
3. First $30.8 million to the Metropolitan
Council--McLaughlin said he
agreed with a provision in the new law that gives the first $30.8 million
to the Metro Council for financing a specific list of projects, including
a busway on the 35W corridor south from downtown Minneapolis.
is opposed to proposals that would give additional amounts of the new
sales tax receipts to the Metro Council. For instance, metro transit,
which is an operating arm of the Metro Council, is not getting as much
money as expected, because of recession-induced effects. To help attack
projected deficit in the state general fund, the Governor has proposed a
37.5 percent cut in the state general fund for transit, he said, and wants
to make it up out of the county quarter-penny sales tax. McLaughlin said
the county sales tax should not be used as backfill for the state's
4. County leadership where Metro Council has
fallen short--McLaughlin said the counties have stepped in with
the quarter-penny sales tax because the Metro Council hasn't been
sufficiently aggressive on seeking funds for metro transit. For example,
the Metro Council has supported a LRT line linking downtown Minneapolis
and downtown St. Paul, known as the Central Corridor line. However, no
financing was available until passage of the county sales tax bill this
6. How the county sales tax funds will be used--A
Metro Transitways Development Board is being established by the
participating counties that agree to impose the one-quarter penny sales
tax. The Board will distribute its money for approved projects; it
will not itself build, own or operate anything, he said. Thus it will
take action on applications for use of the funds. The actual construction
and operations will be carried out by other transit organizations, such as
the county regional rail authorities and Metro Transit.
7. Status of a transitways plan--McLaughlin
said he has a plan on the wall in his office that envisions four rail
transit and hubs in the Minneapolis-St. Paul metro area, (1) downtown
Minneapolis near the ballpark, where the North Star commuter line will
intersect with the Hiawatha line and the Central Corridor line to St.
Paul, and where it would intersect with the Bottineau and other rail lines
to the north, (2) downtown St. Paul, at Union Station, which would be the
terminal for the Central Corridor line and for rail or bus transitways
going north, east, and south, (3) Mall of America, the terminal for the
Hiawatha line and for rail or bus transitways to the south, and (4) Eden
Prairie Center, which would be the terminal for a southwest LRT from
downtown Minneapolis, and for other branches to the south and west.
on his wall is unofficial, he said, but it serves as a guide for him as
chair of the Hennepin County Rail Authority.
whether the plan also is part of the Metropolitan Council's plan,
McLaughlin replied that the Metropolitan Council has a plan but it doesn't
8. Heavy orientation to the downtowns--A
Civic Caucus member commented that the plan seems heavily oriented to the
downtowns of Minneapolis and St. Paul, which combined contain not more
than 15 percent of the employment destinations in the metropolitan area.
The member said rail doesn't seem to do much for congestion on the 494-694
9. Goals for a LRT and commuter rail--McLaughlin
said that a chief objective of the rail system is to guide development.
Congestion relief is a lesser goal. A Civic Caucus member observed that
commuter rail would seem to have an unusual objective of encouraging
development at locations far removed from the built-up portion of the
metro area, such as Big Lake, Northfield, or North Branch.
9. An objective of following federal money?--A
Civic Caucus member noted Ken Orski's observation a couple of weeks ago
that rail systems in big cities around the country often seem to be
proposed because there's federal money available. McLaughlin disagreed.
He said that when he came to the Twin Cities metropolitan area 33 years
ago he was surprised that rail transit had such a marginal priority.
He's been trying to elevate the importance of rail transit. McLaughlin
said that he is more project-oriented than comprehensive-planning
oriented. He saw an opportunity with the Hiawatha LRT line and moved on
agreed that federal support will be very important for the future of rail
transit in the Twin Cities metro area, but we don't know how much will be
available. Because the Hiawatha line already is operational, the area has
a good chance of continuing to receive funds, McLaughlin said.
10. Congestion pricing has potential--In
response to a question about dealing with congestion, McLaughlin said he
is a "convert" to the use of congestion pricing, such as tolls, as a
helpful mechanism for distributing traffic more evenly around the region
and avoiding bottlenecks.
11. Understanding the structure for
and the Civic Caucus members talked at some length about responsibilities
of different jurisdictions and how they relate to one another. It was
noted that newly-enacted state legislation creates an additional
county-based entity, Metro Transitways Development Board that will
allocate sales tax money for transitways. That board is separate from the
Metropolitan Council, which is responsible for regular bus route transit
and for LRT operations. The Minnesota Department of Transportation,
mainly responsible for roads, also has a transit role. It wasn't clear
how these various entities would share various funding, building, and
for--but absence of--statewide leadership on transportation is urgent,
some Civic Caucus members said.
acknowledging that the transportation structure is open to criticism,
McLaughlin said the perfect cannot be the enemy of the good. The new
legislation offers a significant opportunity to increase transit
12. Changing role of the Metropolitan Council--McLaughlin
said the Metropolitan Council in its earlier days exercised much more
leadership than it does today. Council members serve terms co-terminus
with that of the Governor, he said, and they appear to be kept on a very
whether he'd eliminate or strengthen the Metropolitan Council, McLaughlin
said it would be better if the Council were composed of elected officials
of city and county governments in the metro area.
13. Capturing land value increases to help
said he has resisted the idea of capturing the increase in land values
near new transportation installations because he has felt that advocates
of such an approach were targeting transit stations, but not freeway
interchanges. Others in the room said they had thought the idea applied
equally to all types of transportation facilities.
14. Some change enacted favoring urban county
highway financing--McLaughlin clarified that the newly enacted
transportation law has modified a long-criticized formula for distribution
of constitutionally-dedicated county highway funds among the 87 counties.
The formula had been criticized for favoring rural areas. Under changes
enacted in 2008, McLaughlin said, Hennepin County will receive an
additional $140 million over the next 10 years.
15. Thanks--On behalf of the Civic
Caucus, Verne thanked McLaughlin for meeting with us today.
The Civic Caucus
is a non-partisan,
tax-exempt educational organization. Core participants
include persons of varying political persuasions, reflecting
years of leadership in politics and business.
A working group meets face-to-face to
provide leadership. They are Verne C. Johnson, chair; Lee
Canning, Charles Clay, Bill Frenzel,
Paul Gilje, Jim Hetland,
John Mooty, Jim Olson, Wayne Popham and John Rollwagen.
Click Here to
see a biographical statement of each.