here for PDF format
Participant Responses to
of Meeting with Ken Orski
Civic Caucus, 8301
Creekside Circle, #920, Bloomington, MN 55437
Friday, March 14,
speaker: Ken Orski,
Washington, D. C. transportation consultant
Johnson, chair; Chuck Clay, Paul Gilje, Jim Hetland, Jim Olson (by phone),
and Clarence Shallbetter (by phone)
Context of the meeting--The
Civic Caucus for the last five years has been urging significant
improvement in strategic statewide transportation planning and
priority-setting. Today's meeting compares what has been happening in
Minnesota with developments in other states.
Welcome and introduction--Verne
and Paul introduced C. Kenneth Orski, transportation consultant in
Washington, D.C., who edits a newsletter on innovation in transportation
and who served as associate administrator of the Urban Mass Transit
Administration from 1974-1978. He later served as vice president of the
German Marshall Fund of the United States. Orski is a magna cum laude
graduate of Harvard College and Harvard Law School.
Comments and discussion--During
Orski's comments and in discussion with the Civic Caucus the following
points were raised:
1. Multiple revenue sources, jurisdictions, and
plans, but no overall strategic state transportation plan--By
way of introduction Civic Caucus members first reviewed the fact that
transportation planning and priority-setting is divided among several
different groups at the state and local level, each with its own funding
sources, provided by the state constitution or state law. These groups
include the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT), the 87
counties, cities, the Metropolitan Council, metropolitan and
non-metropolitan transit organizations, and a new transit organization of
metropolitan counties being established as a result of a new law enacted
by the Legislature in 2008. No overall strategic transportation plan
exists for coordination or for setting priorities among geographic
locations, among government agencies, or between transit and highways.
Different funding sources--such as the gasoline tax, license fees, the
state sales tax, and the property tax--are assigned to different
2. Subscribers welcome--Orski said
anyone may subscribe without charge to his newsletter, "Innovation News
Briefs", by signing on at www.innobriefs.com. Orski said he also may be
contacted directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
3. Leaner support from the federal government--Orski
sees that the federal government will be leaner in its support of transit
in coming years. First, he said, the federal government is not likely to
build new rail systems in cities that don't already have such systems.
The Twin Cities metropolitan area already has the Hiawatha rail line and,
thus stands eligible for additional federal funding.
4. Pricing can be effective in reducing
congestion--The best way to reduce congestion, Orski said, is
through pricing strategies that have the effect of distributing demand
over a wider network of roads and over a longer time frame. The U.S.
Department of Transportation is promoting pricing very heavily.
pricing strategies, motorists pay fees in varying amounts depending upon
the time of day and location. Fees would be highest at times and
locations of greatest congestion.
to questions, Orski cited two types of pricing strategies. One is to
install new high-occupancy toll (HOT) lanes, such as with I-394 in the
Twin Cities and with expansion of the Beltway in Washington, D. C. A
second strategy, more controversial, and being advanced for New York City,
is to cordon off an area and impose a fee for all vehicles entering the
congested area. London, England, and Stockholm, Sweden, are employing
that strategy successfully, Orski said. A 20 percent reduction in
traffic has been the result, he said. Everything is handled
electronically, without the need for toll booths, he said.
discussion focused on a legislative act this year that limits the use of
tolls on Minnesota roads. It was clarified that new tolls would be
permitted on additional new lanes, but new tolls would not be permitted on
existing lanes. Apparently, tolls would be allowed where shoulders are
converted to new lanes. It is unclear whether tolls could be used to
finance new bridges such as the bridge over the St. Croix at Stillwater.
5. Transit does little for congestion relief--In
response to a question about demand from the public for congestion relief,
Orski said that transit does little to relieve traffic congestion. The
pent up demand for road space is so great that whatever reduction comes
from transit is filled in by other motorists. Billions have been spent
in Washington, D. C., on mass transit and yet the D.C. metro area is
ranked as the second or third most congested metro area in the nation.
While transit is a very important investment, it should not be looked at
as relieving congestion, he said.
6. Reducing suburb-to-suburb congestion--It
was noted that not more than 15 percent of job-related trips are to the
downtowns of Minneapolis and St. Paul. Therefore, rail doesn't serve to
reduce congestion for non-downtown trips. Orski replied that the Twin
Cities area is like other metro areas in the nation. Most trips have
destinations other than the downtowns. Rail systems are oriented to the
downtowns and, therefore, serve a limited amount of the total population.
Costs of rail to serve cross-suburban trips would be prohibitive, he
7. Potential of using increases in land values
to help pay for transportation improvements--A Civic Caucus
member noted that transportation improvements often produce significant
increases in surrounding land values and, thereby, significant windfalls
to landowners. In response to a question Orski said that while this is
true, politicians aren't very willing to use tax-increment financing as a
source to pay for transportation.
8. Importance of higher speeds to attract more
transit riders--Speed, reliability and comfort are important
factors in attracting auto and transit riders, Orski said. It was noted
in discussion that a proposed $800 million light rail transit line on
University Avenue between downtown Minneapolis and downtown St. Paul would
not--according to recent reports--appreciably increase speed beyond levels
already present on University Avenue buses and that some express service
on I-94 would be reduced.
9. Limited use of feeder buses; more use of
park-and-ride to bring riders to rail transit--Cities across
the country haven't been inclined to rely on feeder bus service to bring
riders to transit stations, Orski said. Instead they've relied more on
park-and-ride lots next to the stations. In Washington, D.C., he said,
park-and-ride lots are filled at the rail stations by 7 a.m. In fact, it
now costs $6 a day to use the park-and-ride lots, and they still are
filled early. The question was raised briefly about the potential of
parking charges as a revenue source for transit in the Twin Cities metro
10. Difficulty in serving cross-suburban trips--Continuing
the earlier discussion about most trips in the metro area being headed for
non-downtown destinations, Orski was asked what might be done for
cross-suburban transit. Orski said that the most convenient, least
expensive, approach for cross-suburban trips still is the private car.
All you need to do is look at the dispersal of housing and job
locations. You can't wave a magic wand. Orski said that making
peak-period trips more expensive via pricing--and, thereby, off-peak trips
relatively less expensive--seems to be the best way to reduce congestion.
11. Diminishing use of carpools?--Carpooling
is going down as a percentage of total trips, Orski said. The traditional
9-to-5 work schedule is giving way to work arrangements that are much more
flexible, which makes carpooling more difficult. Also people have other
destinations, such as child care, on their way to work. Most carpooling
now seems to be among people in the same household, couples or parent and
Telecommuting has not become a significant factor in reducing trips, he
said. Employers like to see their employees face-to-face.
12. Need to satisfy many interests and
jurisdictions in transportation--Orski noted that the
Governor's veto of a major transportation bill was over ridden in the
Minnesota Legislature this year. The reason is that it's a political
fact of life now that to get unpopular financial measures enacted you need
to spread the benefits among many interests and jurisdictions. He doubts
the veto would have been over-ridden if benefits were centered in one
13. Transportation planning and
priority-setting not different in Minnesota--The Minnesota
situation, explained earlier in this summary, is not all that different
from other states and metro areas in the nation, Orski said. The
Metropolitan Transportation Commission of San Francisco is an example of a
regional authority that allocates monies across jurisdictions and modes of
14. Prospects for a comprehensive plan while
retaining various jurisdictions with their own funding sources--A
Civic Caucus member asked whether it should be possible for a
comprehensive strategic plan to be prepared in Minnesota, without removing
authority or revenue sources from existing organizations. Orski replied
that state departments of transportation normally have that
responsibility. In discussion it wasn't clear whether MnDOT is
responsible for comprehensive strategic planning. Persons present felt
that MnDOT's planning responsibility seems limited to those transportation
facilities (state trunk highways) that are funded with state government's
share of the state gasoline tax and vehicle license fees.
15. Potential of review by a metropolitan
planning agency--A member of the Civic Caucus recalled that
years ago the federal government required that projects receiving federal
funds were subject to review by metropolitan planning agencies, such as
the Metropolitan Council, to determine whether projects were consistent
with metropolitan plans. That practice, carrying the bureaucratic title
"A-95 review", no longer exists. Persons present were not sure why such
review was discontinued.
16. Future growth of transit funding--One
proposal--whose chances of adoption are uncertain because of a shortage of
federal dollars--would increase transit funding nationally from $8.5
billion to $10 billion a year, Orski said. He urged members of the Civic
Caucus to attend a transportation forum to be conducted by Congressman
James Oberstar on April 7 at the Radisson University Hotel. That forum
should help people get an idea of a respected congressional leader's
approach to the role of transit in overall transportation funding. Under
the best of circumstances Orski predicted that increases in New Starts
funding will be marginal in the future.
17. Importance of leadership at the state
level--It was noted that Minnesota not only doesn't have a
state transportation plan, the state did away with the State Planning
Agency a few years ago. Orski said the prevailing practice in
transportation has been for separate plans to be prepared for roads and
transit, including rail transit. They haven't been planned together.
Others noted that such a situation certainly is present in Minnesota
today. The counties, which have had power to establish regional rail
authorities, now have power to raise funds for transit via a sales tax (at
least in the seven-county metro area).
the Civic Caucus said it isn't clear what role the Metropolitan Council
will play relative to the counties, under newly-enacted state
legislation. Nor is it clear why the Legislature chose to reduce the
role of the Metropolitan Council relative to the metro counties.
18. Thanks--On behalf of the Civic
Caucus, Verne thanked Orski 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.