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Summary of Meeting with Ken Orski,
Civic Caucus, 8301
Creekside Circle, Bloomington, MN 55437
Friday, March 6, 2009
transportation consultant and publisher of the transportation
Innovation NewsBriefs, now in its 20th year
Verne Johnson, chair; Paul Gilje, Jim Hetland, Tim McDonald, Jim Olson
(phone), Wayne Popham (phone), Clarence Shallbetter (phone)
Context of the meeting—Transportation
is an ongoing focus of the Civic Caucus. The core leadership, in
cooperation with electronic members, is working on a position statement to
address planning, funding, and leadership on transportation in the state.
This visit with Ken Orski is timely, providing his national perspective
Discussion before the meeting—
Those members present shared a moment of silence and a prayer for Chuck
Clay, who passed away on Sunday, March 1st, aged 83 years.
Chuck was an original member of the Civic Caucus and a dear friend. He was
active in the civic life of his community up through his final years.
legislative update was provided on the public school chartering law. A
moratorium on charter schools has been inserted in the Senate's omnibus
charter bill. A similar amendment had been added to the House bill but
then was deleted. Such an amendment would run counter to 25 years of an
evolving ‘split screen’ in Minnesota’s education strategy, where
conventional districts are run parallel to an autonomous R&D sector
answerable to the state, not the local districts in which they reside.
Next Paul provided a
review of some 10 pages of responses to the Caucus’ transportation
summary, received already within two days of the Wednesday email. People
are saying that problems with transportation have not been addressed, Paul
reported, but there is absolutely no consensus about what to do about it.
Not even a weighted favorite. Where there was consensus, he said, was in a
common call for leadership that someone must take the reigns of conducting
and executing a strategic plan.
Welcome and introductions—Verne
and Paul welcomed and introduced Ken Orski, transportation consultant. A
former principal of the Urban Mobility Corporation, Orski has worked
professionally in the field of transportation for over 30 years. He served
as Associate Administrator of the Urban Mass Transportation Administration
under President Nixon and President Ford (1974-78). During his 20-year
consulting career, Orski counseled more than 30 state and local
jurisdictions on issues relating to transportation planning and
Comments and discussion—During
Orski’s comments and in discussion with the Civic Caucus the following
points were raised:
1. Disbursement of federal stimulus monies for
will be guidelines for the stimulus money, Orski said. Congressman
state DOTs and local
entities will decide how to spend it.
contains a summary of how the transportation portion of federal stimulus
money will be distributed.
to the MnDOT website, nationally, a total of $48.12 billion is provided
for transportation, which is apportioned as follows: $27.5 billion,
highways and bridges; $8 billion, high-speed and intercity passenger rail;
$1.3 billion, Amtrak; transit formula, $6.9 billion; transit fixed
guideway, $750 million; transit new starts, $750 million; competitive
surface transportation grants, $1.5 billion; airports, $1.1 billion.
to the website, Minnesota's share of the highways and bridges allotment is
approximately $502 million, of which $345 million is for MnDOT roads and
highways throughout the state, and $155 million is targeted for counties
and cities across the state for roads and highways. Minnesota's share of
the transit formula allotment is approximately $92 million.
Metropolitan Council website (http://www.metrocouncil.org/Directions/transit/transit2009/EconRecoveryFeb09.htm)
provides additional detail: Of the $155 million local portion, about half
will go to the Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO), composed jointly
of the Metropolitan Council and Transportation Advisory Board (TAB), for
distribution to road and highway projects in the metro area. To
distinguish these dollars from the state-allocated funds, planners are
calling these monies the “MPO” dollars.
addition, the Council and TAB will allocate an additional $69 million in
stimulus dollars for metro area transit projects.
2. Setting transportation priorities—A
Caucus member asked how priorities will, or can, be set with such
fragmentation in the decision-making processes around transportation. In
addition to the stimulus money, the federal government supplies funding by
way of earmarks, often directing transport development defacto with
matching grants. This is increasingly the case with rail. How much should
the federal government be involved?
responded that the states set their own policies for spending, and that
the federal policy is hands-off.
member pointed out that the federal government has had influence with the
interstate highway system, peaking about 10 or 15 years ago. It has also
provided construction funds for new projects, often without any
appropriated funds for upkeep.
federal transportation system has lost its mission, its purpose, Orski
said. It lost this after completion of the interstate highway system.
Because of this lack of direction they are especially susceptible to
earmarks. There is pressure now on
to come up with a new purpose.
There is a
‘mountain of needs,’ in Minnesota, a Caucus member observed. Everyone
keeps contributing to it. Desires and interests grow beyond the economy.
We don’t have a way to prioritize or limit these requests.
doesn’t sound unfamiliar, Orski responded. Many states are finding
themselves in this position. Minnesota is not unique in this regard. The
decision process for spending is in the hands of each state. It will be
different in each state. In Florida, for example, ideas generate from the
ground-up, as citizen groups develop lists of needs and forward them onto
the state, where a process is then followed for selecting projects.
3. Fragmentation of decision-making—In
Minnesota we find it hard for a single leader to make decisions because
transportation authority is fragmented. Orski replied that at this point
the law is clear: There is a federal transit program and a federal highway
program. They are separate. There is talk of getting rid of the modular
‘stove pipe’ process of decision-making and coming up with a single
groups are worried about combining these
because of the potential for loss of money. This is especially so with
highways because of the momentum behind rail. Ultimately he is skeptical
about the prospects for getting rid of
talking of a need for renewed focus on freight, Orski added.
Here, the approach
would also be multi-modal (rail, road,
member asked if it is possible to have a unified approach to
transportation planning at the state level. It is, Orski said, but you
would fall under the same pressures as at the federal levels: protecting
4. The role of the governor—It
was noted that Governor Pawlenty’s State of the State address in February
did not contain any talk on transportation. What is the pattern, a member
asked, that you have seen regarding executive leadership on transport at
the state level?
Orski: It varies. The
a strong role in Pennsylvania, Florida, Texas, Colorado, Indiana, and
California. In other states
the decisions are
left in the hands of the Department of Transportation or state
transportation commission. In states where governors have taken a strong
initiative, Orski stated, things have happened faster than where they do
5. Serious concerns over the viability of
member raised the concern that we are looking now to debt finance
expansions in our transportation infrastructure, including various forms
of rail, without any prospects for its ability to self-finance: Busing
runs at a loss, Amtrak is government owned. Our light rail is heavily
subsidized. Who will subsidize new federal programs?
federal government is providing the seed money for new capital projects,
but will the federal transit authority require it has a process in place
to pay for upkeep? That’s a good question, Orski agreed. There is $8
billion designated in the stimulus package for high speed rail, but note
that this is probably only for initial planning. The cost of a
single high-speed rail line, from Los Angeles to San
Francisco, would be about $41 billion. Some groups in California have
predicted the cost will be twice that amount. The California project is
being financed jointly by federal, private, and state sources. Citizens
voted 53-47 percent in November 2008 to appropriate $9 billion to the
project. Voting was concentrated in those counties that will be served by
the line, which may connect Los Angeles and San Francisco in as little as
2.5 hours, at 220 miles per hour.
6. A new program for a national
reports that Congressman Oberstar’s vision for a new national transit
agenda includes Interstate maintenance, freight, urban mobility (‘mega
projects’), and inter-city rail. The Congressman thinks that the country
needs a far more ambitious program, and that the national government
should play a leading role. He is being very solicitous of the needs of
Minnesota. How is the finance committee viewing this? Nobody yet knows.
7. Prospects for new money—A
member asked if there is any new money in the near future. Orski
characterized the situation as follows: Everyone is looking
Things will become clearer in the next 6-8 months, because Congress will
have to focus on the transportation reauthorization bill.
8. Reducing congestion—It
appears that congestion has finally been reduced, albeit in by sordid
means: reduced economic activity. A Caucus member wanted Orski to
consider the state of LRT versus busing options on University Avenue. It
makes good political sense to connect the two downtowns, even if 85
percent of jobs in the metro area are located outside the downtowns of
Minneapolis and St. Paul,
think connecting the Twin Cities makes sense.
9. Helpful links, passed on by the speaker--Orski
provided the following links that illustrate how two other states are
handing their stimulus dollars.
behalf of the Civic Caucus, Verne thanked Orski for meeting with us
11. General comments on leadership--Civic
Caucus members noted a clear need for strong state leadership. Otherwise
this volcano of wants—‘needs’—grows. The disconnect between wants and
needs is growing. In this time of declining revenue we need to be
especially careful about discipline. The question of leadership prevails.
It doesn’t matter who, but someone must lead. A collection of
desires put together from meetings with all the interested parties is not
of use unless it has serious legislative or executive leadership behind