here for PDF format
Click here for participants' responses to this summary
of Meeting on Discussion of Transportation Policy
8301 Creekside Circle,
Bloomington, MN 55437
Friday, January 16,
Verne C. Johnson,
chair; David Broden, Marianne Curry (by phone), Paul Gilje, Jim Hetland
(by phone), Tim McDonald, Wayne Popham (by phone), and Clarence
A. Context of the
The Civic Caucus has devoted several meetings to a discussion of state
transportation issues. Today we're conducting an internal discussion on
possible conclusions we might consider. We'll plan ask all electronic
participants to comment on the summary of today's meeting, after which we
are likely to prepare a position paper. Before we release any such
position paper we'd first invite participants to suggest changes and,
after approval by the Civic Caucus, to sign on in support before the
position paper is officially distributed.
give the reader a context for the various comments appearing below, here's
a summary of what appeared to be a central conclusion emerging from
Minnesota is swamped
by fragmented decision-making in transportation--
Minnesota's future transportation path is becoming a laundry list of
earmarked local investments, assembled by a host of different agencies,
without fitting into an overall plan. We seem hopelessly swamped by
fragmented decision making. Today's main transportation problem is not
lack of revenue. It's leadership. We must have a statewide comprehensive
transportation plan with priorities. Our challenge, with our fragmented
system, is who is responsible for such a plan. That is the central need as
we look ahead.
We should be guided by these principles:
--Recognizing that transportation leadership begins with the Governor.
--Establishing and following clear statewide transportation objectives
--Affirming that the future of the state's economy as a job-producer and
sustainer is dependent upon efficient movement of goods and people
--Requiring a statewide plan for roads, rail, and buses that must be
followed by all transportation agencies.
transportation revenue control in the Governor and
C. Points related to
the summary conclusion--During
the meeting the following points of concern on transportation policy were
identified. These points are organized under four categories, Leadership,
Structure, Priorities, and Revenue.
Importance of transportation to the economy of the state--Transportation
policy ought not be based on the sum total of all the projects favored by
every agency or interest group. Transportation ought to be regarded for
what it is--a central component in building the economy of the state--and
be planned strategically. Is the need to bring raw materials to business
and goods to markets, so essential for the state's economy, being
overlooked in favor of the more popular need of moving people? Freight
trains, trucks and barges play key roles.
Importance of identifying specific objectives--State policy on
transportation needs to be expressed specifically, so that people
throughout the state can clearly understand the purposes of major
investments. The Interstate highway system started in the 1950s had
clear federal objectives.
Strategic leadership by the Governor and Legislature is essential--
The Governor must reclaim transportation policy for the people of the
state, with clear direction from the Legislature as to what is expected.
It is essential that overall strategies be outlined, in sufficient detail
to assure a framework for intelligent choices in an atmosphere of
continuous surplus of needs and shortage of funds. Only at the state
level, within the offices of Governor and the Legislature, is it possible
to bring all aspects of transportation together in one place and produce
any kind of coherent statewide policy.
Current situation is much more serious than is widely accepted or
understood--We in Minnesota have established so many independent and
overlapping governmental arrangements for planning, building, maintaining,
and financing roads, buses, and rail systems that it is virtually
impossible today to identify--let alone implement--goals. The problem is
intensifying year-by-year as new structural and financing devices are
added. Regrettably, the problem is not widely recognized. When it comes
to competing with other states for economic development, we ought to be
keenly aware that a strong transportation system can offset natural
handicaps caused by our location.
Multiple interests are present--Decisions on rail, buses, and roads
are parceled among many agencies and units of government, each with its
own interest groups advocating expansion and claiming their own revenue
sources. Struggles among rail, bus, and road interests, among different
parts of the state and among different agencies and levels of government
are inevitable, and might be desirable. These struggles assure that needs
won't be overlooked. But an absence of overall direction means local and
personal interests inevitably will triumph over the wider public interest.
of one agency, the Minnesota Department of Transportation, implies
influence over all transportation, but its traditional assignment,
highways, remains its prime function. A State Planning Agency was
abolished several years ago, although arguments are made that the state
planning function was simply reassigned to other parts of state
government. Nevertheless, state planning is clearly not acknowledged as a
strategic part of state government today.
Regional needs don't jibe with jurisdictional boundaries--The
Metropolitan Council's transportation responsibilities are largely limited
to a seven-county area, even though the real metro area has extended at
least to 11 counties and perhaps to as many as 19 counties.
Demands by different interests are very influential--Regardless of
the importance of ranking projects by sober analysis and systematic
rating, the demands expressed by units of government, associations of
communities, and other affected interests appear very influential in
priorities for capital improvements is an essential part of every public
and private endeavor, and need not be different when it comes to
transportation. Usually priorities can be clearly identified based on
widely recognized measurements. While results of computer analysis are
never accepted without question, but they can build much needed
rationality into every system that weighs one need against another.
Imbalance between new construction and rebuilding/maintenance--Minnesota
needs aggressive action on rebuilding and maintenance to preserve its
substantial network of roads, buses and rails for years to come. Yet we
are using capital earmarks for construction and too often giving
insufficient attention to the resulting future operating and rebuilding
expenses that will be incurred.
Availability of federal matching dollars is distorting real needs--In
many cases it appears that certain projects are scheduled mainly because
of availability of federal dollars, even though the state and localities
might have higher priorities elsewhere.
If a clear
federal purpose is not present--such as it was when the Interstate highway
system was enacted in the 1950s--perhaps federal dollars could flow
directly to the states, similar to the way federal Community Development
Block Grants (CDBG) flow to cities. Or, maybe the federal gasoline tax
could simply be returned to the states where the tax was paid.
Questionable decisions on choice of modes--Who
decides that Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) rather than Light Rail Transit (LRT)
is appropriate for the 35W corridor south of
If BRT is cheaper, why isn't that option considered in corridors with less
travel demand than 35W? Why should higher priority be attached to transit
systems whose vehicles are fixed to a new set of inflexible rights-of-way
(rails) rather than taking maximum advantage of vehicles that use
existing, flexible, rights-of-way (roads)?
High-demand, congestion-producing, job-related cross-town trips often seem
to have lower priority than traditional downtown-oriented routes--Fixed-route-based
transit plans traditionally have succeeded economically with destinations
of large concentrations of employment. But the Twin Cities area has a
large majority, 85 percent or more, of its jobs outside the two
downtowns. Cannot new means be devised to serve such locations?
biggest need for workers and employers is that the workers have available
a transportation system that gets them to work as efficiently as
possible. A transit system that serves only those workers and employers
who happen to be served by downtown-oriented fixed transit routes will
touch barely a fraction of work trips--particularly in a metro area where
trips resemble more a ball of yarn than spokes on a wheel.
Groups with control over public funding sources have extraordinary
influence on priorities--The state constitution gives counties and
cities exclusive use of a significant portion of state gasoline and motor
vehicle license revenue. The constitution also prescribes which agencies
shall have access to the sales tax on new and used vehicles.
has authorized metro counties to raise sales tax revenue that is
specifically limited to rail and to bus ways. Moreover, each county
essentially exercises veto power over how much of such revenue stays
within the county. Almost forgotten is the fact that counties under the
constitution are not home rule units of government. They are operating
arms of the state.
Officially, many projects in the state aren't subject to "earmarking"--
MnDOT, for example, makes decisions on priorities for most of its
revenue for most state highways, except for an occasional
federally-earmarked road or a project specified in the state bonding
bill. Earmarking is much more common for bus and rail improvements. Even
MnDOT can be subject to pressure from individual legislators and interest
Stated goals needed for setting priorities--A few stated goals are
needed, such as (a) maintaining the integrity of the existing system, (b)
assuring the movement of goods throughout the state, (c) providing
congestion relief, (d) lessening fragmented decision-making, and (e) not
becoming subservient to federal earmarks.
transportation policy to deliberately influence development needs a closer
the location of new residential and business development, not just easing
congestion, is frequently cited as an objective, but no one knows who is
supposed to make development decisions or whether such a strategy is sound
or even will work. Moreover, development objectives frequently conflict
with one another. Is the concept of discouraging urban sprawl a desirable
development objective? If so, how is long distance commuter rail
extending to outlying counties consistent with such an objective?
We need to
recognize that transportation is but one--and maybe not the most
significant--factor affecting where, what kind, and how much residential
and commercial development occurs. Developers and land investors,
working with individual municipalities, are extremely important. Location
and timing of construction of major sewers might be the most significant
of public investments in directing development.
Finding revenue sources outside the general fund--The general
revenue fund is in precious short supply for services like education and
health and human services, which are poorly suited to be funded by other
sources. Transportation can rely on user taxes and need not be
supported with general revenues. However, transportation in Minnesota
has tapped general revenue sources twice in the last three years.
Decisions on paying for operating expenses are not being made at the same
time as decisions on capital investments--Today, financing for capital
needs of rail, bus or roads is always considered first, with operating
expenses assumed to be a later, lesser-important concern. Lawmakers
should insist that every capital project for transportation be accompanied
by arrangements to cover operating and maintenance expenses. With fare
box revenue covering one-third or less of operating expenses, and with
operating expenses escalating, even as riders increase, it is absolutely
critical that operating and capital financing be arranged together, up
Different kinds of vehicles might not be paying their proportionate share
of transportation expenses, based on weight, distance traveled and time of
day--If certain vehicles aren't paying for the wear and tear they
cause, their fees ought to be adjusted accordingly.
Newer methods for financing transportation need to be evaluated--Shortcomings
of existing revenue sources that are dependent upon the price of vehicles
and the price and usage of gasoline are clearly evident. But so many
other options have yet to be implemented, such as having users pay
according to weight of the vehicle, time of day, location, and length of
trip. The state is hardly prepared for taxing energy used by
Avoid past practices of revenue allocation when new sources are
implemented--Lawmakers should no longer permit any one agency, level
of government or mode of transportation be granted exclusive access to
revenue sources, which has been a widespread practice for decades, and
even has multiplied in recent years. If a new source is identified, the
state itself should retain all rights for distribution of the funds. In
no event should new revenues be allocated as are current
constitutionally-dedicated revenues. Nothing is perhaps more critical in
implementing state transportation policy.
operating agency for any purpose--transportation or otherwise--doesn't
hope for a stable revenue source that isn't vulnerable to year-by-year
decisions of elected officials. But elected officials must retain
authority over revenues--to keep revenues in check and to preserve
representative government. As has been clearly evident recently, revenues
sometimes shrink, significantly. Elected officials ought not have to stand
by helplessly as some agency continues to reap funds automatically because
of a previously-approved statute or constitutionally approved revenue