here for PDF format
for participants' responses to this summary.
of Meeting with Tom Sorel, MnDOT Commissioner
Civic Caucus, 8301
Creekside Circle, Bloomington, MN 55437
Friday, February 20,
speaker: Tom Sorel,
commissioner, Minnesota Department of Transportation
The meeting took place in a conference room at the MnDOT building, State
Johnson, chair; David Broden, Marianne Curry, Paul Gilje, Jim Hetland (by
phone), Dan Loritz, and Clarence Shallbetter
Context of the meeting--The
Civic Caucus invited the commissioner to meet with us today to discuss the
status of comprehensive transportation planning and policy-making in
Minnesota, the main subject of a Civic Caucus meeting last month.
Welcome and introductions--Verne
and Paul welcomed and introduced Tom Sorel, commissioner, Minnesota
Department of Transportation. Sorel began his position as the Minnesota
commissioner of transportation in April 2008. He has 30 years’ experience
with the U.S. Department of Transportation Federal Highway Administration,
as division administrator with the Minnesota Division Office of the FHWA
in St. Paul; stewardship/oversight group and major projects team leader in
the Washington, D.C. FHWA Office of Infrastructure; U.S. DOT intermodal
liaison for the 2002 Winter Olympic Games in Salt Lake City; and director
of planning and program development in FHWA's regional office in Albany,
New York. Sorel has a Master of Business Administration degree from
Thomas College in Maine, a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering from the
State University of New York, Buffalo and experience in executive
management, project management and conflict management.
Comments and discussion--During
Sorel's comments and in discussion with the Civic Caucus the following
points were raised:
1. Significance of the 35W bridge collapse--Collapse
of the 35W bridge in Minneapolis on August 1, 2007, has had an enormous
impact, particularly emotionally, on the public and on those directly
involved in transportation, Sorel said. We shouldn't underestimate its
impact. People are still hurting. MnDOT needs to regain public trust it
formerly had. Regaining public trust means emphasizing integrity,
intent, competency and follow-through, he said.
2. Statewide transportation plan highlighted--Sorel
highlighted the strategic vision for MnDOT that includes five strategic
directions: Safety, Mobility, Innovation, Leadership and Transparency. He
then highlighted the activities related to the development of the
2009-2028 State Transportation Plan.
Identified as key
components of the plan are:
--Superior highway connections to adjacent states
--Active ports in Duluth and along the Mississippi
--Strong connections to a national high-speed
passenger rail network
--Cost-competitive national freight rail
connections, supported by regional freight rail corridors and intermodal
--Vibrant Twin Cities International Airport hub
and secondary supporting airports throughout the state
--Upgraded highways and expanded transit service
connecting regional trade centers throughout the state
--Reliable mobility in the Twin Cities through
innovative highway capacity improvements and expanded transitways.
--Reliable mobility in greater Minnesota
metropolitan areas through expansion of the highway network and transit
--Greater transit options throughout the state
with improved connectivity between services and modes
--Safe travel throughout the state, with a goal
toward zero fatalities
--Expanded networks for safe biking and walking
He hopes the vision
for this plan can be shared by all transportation stakeholders in the
Caucus member observed that the transportation plan ought to be
consciously integrated with other objectives such as economic development
plans for the state, so that it can be linked to creating jobs, for
3. A MnDOT plan, prepared collaboratively--Asked
about the plan's official status when adopted, Sorel said that ultimately
MnDOT approves the plan, but it is based on collaboration with
4. Whether the plan identifies what won't be
done--A Civic Caucus member observed that to be credible a plan
must indicate what won't be done as well as what will be done, to
demonstrate that priorities are serious.
5. A rail plan is included--A
statewide rail plan will be included, Sorel said, which can be
transformational for MnDOT.
6. Significance of proposed Pine Island development--A
Civic Caucus member commented about some publicity today about a possible
$50 million highway improvement in the vicinity of Pine Island, MN, to
support a major new industrial development. Sorel replied that the
project is something MnDOT is exploring but MnDOT has not determined an
appropriate investment level.
7. Major shift in management style for MnDOT--Sorel
said that MnDOT's approach of involving all stakeholders--e.g. cities,
counties, rail advocates, trucking interests, contractors, consultants,
etc.--in preparation of its transportation plans represents the current
emphasis on collaborative approaches for MnDOT.
8. Minnesota's structure not more fragmented
than other states--Responding
to a question, about involvement of so many different levels of government
and agencies in Minnesota transportation, Sorel said he doesn't think
Minnesota's situation is all that different from that of other states.
Asked about possible structural changes, he replied that he doesn't
believe the structure is fatally flawed.
9. How to set priorities in a collaborative
process--Civic Caucus members said they can understand how
because of collaboration various interests each would be able to get their
plans incorporated in MnDOT plans. But it isn't clear, they said, how
priorities would be set. For example, if both more rail and highways are
contemplated in the same corridor, serving the same locations, it is
difficult to see how the collaborative process would be able to produce a
decision on relative priorities for the rail and highway improvements.
Sorel said he doesn't envision so-called "winners" or "losers" in the
MnDOT plan as it will be finally adopted.
10. Significant emphasis on freight movement--Responding
to a question about the economic development importance of paying more
attention to moving freight, not just people, Sorel replied that MnDOT's
plans indicate major support for freight.
11. Paying attention to the interests of
cities, suburbs, and smaller towns-A Civic Caucus member noted
that there's great interest on the part of individual cities about
maintaining and improving their local street system, along with local
buses, as well as being connected to larger projects, such as inter-city
rail. Sorel replied that the MnDOT plans will take these interests into
consideration as well.
12. Timetable for MnDOT approval--After
sufficient input from all interests MnDOT will be adopting its 20-year
plan, Sorel said. Currently, its draft documents are being reviewed by
others. See the complete draft at: http://www.dot.state.mn.us/planning/stateplan/download.html.
He repeated his earlier point that the plan, while ultimately approved by
MnDOT, won't be just a MnDOT plan, because it is a collaborative
of a state planning agency--A Civic Caucus member observed that
it might be easier to integrate MnDOT plans with other concepts for the
development of the state (such as where various types of economic activity
could be encouraged) if there were a state planning agency.
14. Leveraging private investment--Continuing
the discussion of the importance of highway interchanges to various
private development projects, Sorel noted that the University of Minnesota
currently is studying the potential of obtaining financial support for
highway projects from the property owners who benefit from those
projects. Sorel said MnDOT knows there are critical interchanges for
economic development and he believes MnDOT can play a leadership role in
their timing and financing.
15. "Needs" always seem far in excess of any
reasonable expectation of fulfillment--Responding to a
question, Sorel said MnDOT plans outline some $65 billion in highway needs
over the next 20 years, during which time about $15 billion is expected to
be available for construction. A Civic Caucus member observed that growth
in the "needs" for highways always seem to grow much faster than the
growth in the level of the economy, and, consequently, faster than ever
can be expected to be satisfied.
16. Importance of looking to innovation--Many
new areas need to be explored, Sorel said. That is why he's stressing a
multi-modal approach for MnDOT. We also need to look at better revenue
sources than the gasoline tax and to ways to bring the private sector into
17. Question of how a plan is enforceable--Acknowledging
the collaborative approach, a Civic Caucus member inquired how the plan's
recommendations would be enforceable. Sorel replied that he is hoping
for a common vision to emerge among the participants. He doesn't want to
be in an enforcement mode.
18. Support from the Governor--Sorel
said that he, as a transportation professional, has received good support
from the Governor.
19. Addressing the importance of setting
priorities within limited financial means--Civic Caucus members
wondered how the MnDOT plan can be workable if it doesn't face the hard
decisions of which projects ought to receive higher priority over others,
given financial limitations. They wondered how listing all desired
projects will provide adequate direction.
20. Thanks--On behalf of the Civic
Caucus, Verne thanked Sorel for meeting with the Civic Caucus today.