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 Response Page - Civic Caucus Internal Discussion  on Transportation issues.     


These comments are responses to the questions listed below,
which were generated in regard to the
Civic Caucus Discussion of
01-16-09.

The Questions:

On a scale of (0) strong disagreement, to (5) neutral, to (10) strong agreement, what is your view on whether:

_7.2 average____1. Only within the office of Governor, with legislative support, is it possible to bring all aspects of transportation together in one place and produce coherent statewide policy.

_6.9 average____2. Minnesota has 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--state goals.

_6.5 average____3. Rebuilding and operating of existing facilities should receive higher priority over additional roads, interchanges, bus routes and rail lines.

_6.1 average ___4. In light of very limited state revenues, state sales and income taxes should be reserved for other functions, such as education and human services, with transportation supported by user taxes.

Chuck Slocum (10) (10) (8) (5)
Question 3: When compared to others, we are well behind the curve regarding rail transportation and that could also be a priority.

Question 4: Depending on the specific project, it may be appropriate to use income, sales or some form of dedicated funding for transportation.

Mike Miller (10) (9) (0) (4)

Larry Haws (8) (2) (3) (4)

Len Nadasdy (10) (10) (8) (3)

Glenn S. Dorfman (5) (10) (5) (8)

Question 3: Depends upon where the jobs are projected to be in the next phase of more gradual economic expansion.

State Rep. Jim Abeler (7) (0) (0) (7)

John Nowicki (10) (8) (10) (7)

Steve Alderson (0) (5) (10) (10)

Tom Abeles

The one central piece which the Civic Caucus seemed to gloss over is the abolishing of the State Planning Department. This was one of the few places where various issues could come together. In a digital age, it would be the one place where all interested parties could have impact and cross areas could be considered.

For example, as we move into the web 2.0 age and an information economy, issues like city planning change and thus both the traditional transport infrastructure and future infrastructure should also change. The issue of transport can not be really considered at any level if the issue of the need for movement of goods and services is not considered. As energy costs rise and the true environmental costs of transportation are considered, can we continue to allow zoning for sprawl and commute development. As farms consolidate and become more efficient, will we need the same rural infrastructure. What does "locally" grown mean for movement of goods and services? What will the business/industrial job profile look like as MN's economy shifts?

The current university system is a paradigmatic example. From just a transport perspective, as knowledge grows on the internet, do we need bigger and more diverse information highways and not so many brick space roads and highways? The same holds for the entire education system.

If one studies the history of transportation, one sees that much of that infrastructure has come and gone with the times as have communities. When the rails were laid, many towns were needed along the right of way to support the construction and then the fuel and water for steam. As diesels came in, these fueling stations lost out and some towns folded. The same thing happened with the interstate. No interchange? No town. As farms consolidated, small town businesses collapsed to regional centers. With a need to be concerned about a green environment and shifts in businesses, modes of transport will change. Lone Eagles will commute to work via the Internet from their boat on the Mississippi and their cabin in Ely. Telemedicine changes health maintenance patterns. The examples are endless.

Transport can not be considered separate from the future of the State. It can not be designed to support a past that never was for a future that will not be.

Bring back a new planning agency and focus on the "system" and not just one piece. Think of the State as the Pillsbury Dough Boy. Now try to put a corset on the Dough Boy. You have to see the entire picture. Just stuffing him in on one side will cause him to pop out the other, or in an unsuspecting place. We need a systems perspective.

Donald H. Anderson (7) (8) (4) (7)

Al Quie (10) (7) (5) (0)

John Milton (0) (2) (5) (0)

Question 1: I don't trust Gov Pawlenty -- he's trying to undo all of the progress made by his predecessors (GOP and DFL), just as Bush did on the national scale.

Question 4: Taxes should be raised to do both, but Gov Pawlenty won't ever let that happen.

Terry Stone (10) (10) (10) (10)

Andy Driscoll (6) (6) (3) (5)

For too long has the transportation policy of Minnesota been based on accommodating the automobile and its demands for more and more space as the number of them multiplies and single-occupancy vehicle use remains at high levels, crating congestion, pollution and fossil fuel consumption at extraordinary rates. We can no longer afford this.

While centralizing the planning, construction, and maintenance system might pay off in transportation management efficiencies, the priority is very clear - and requires a cultural shift on the part of planner, policymakers and users: we must recoup some of the transit momentum lost 60 years ago with the loss of the urban rail system. We now need desperately to move more people both efficiently and cleanly and to invest in the rail and bus infrastructure necessary to simply hold our rising congestion at bay and to address those ancillary issues of energy consumption and it resulting contributions to warming gases and poisonous air to breathe.

While centralizing the processes in the governor's office may be both desirable and necessary, no one elected official should be responsible for this massive task, but it should no longer be divided, either, among MnDOT, the Met Council and County Regional Rail Authorities (which are not truly regional, but often fiefdoms that can act in direct conflict with state policy.)

A truly coherent transportation policy and its implementation should be left with the state, but forcing highways and bridges to compete with rail and buses is something that must disappear within agencies like MnDOT where highway builders have had the upper hand. To that end, the Constitutional provision dedicating all or most automotive user fees and taxes must be repealed so to release funds into a 21st Century pot of dollars for more balanced transportation approaches. This should have been done many years ago, but better late than never. Had it happened sooner, a divided state would not have needed to pass an additional amendment directing specific funds at specific transportation policy objectives. The Constitution is no place for dedicated funds, in any event.

One more fact: the success of the Hiawatha light rail line and the pent-up demand for rail transit in the Metro demonstrated by its attaining ridership objectives literally three years sooner (one million riders per month in August 2007, not 2010) than predicted is a major indicator of where policy and resources should long ago have been spent. It's not too late - yet. But the time has come for the shift.

Bob White (8) (10) (8) (5)

Chris Brazelton

I order to obtain agreement and consensus for the conclusions here, it would be extremely helpful to include specific examples with supporting data. Tell the stories that led to the conclusions. We can't assume common knowledge of the facts that led to these conclusions. In order to overhaul a system that is so entrenched. people need to clearly see the reasons why.

My knowledge of the issues and systems is too limited for me to make an informed choice, therefore I decline to respond. This issue is far too important to rely on knee-jerk
reactions. While all of the conclusions reached may be accurate, I (and I suspect that other readers) need more to go on.

Marina Lyon (10) (10) (10) (8)
My only concern is that there are so many points – how do we make this statement strong and SHORT enough to ensure elected officials will read it?

Norm Carpenter (8) (8) (5) (5)
Good summary of the issues.

Paul Hauge (5) (5) (8) (9)

Anonymous (0) (2) (5) (1)

Question 3: these two issues (hwys & transit) in this question should be separated.

The group's "guiding principles are mistaken if not wholly inaccurate.

--Recognizing that transportation leadership begins with the Governor. --The governor has not even mentioned transportation in his State of the State address for the last four years. Respectfully, since late 2005 he has been a non-player and did not shape 2008's partial solution to Minnesota's transportation dilemma. The leadership on transportation begins with the counties, townships, cities and the legislature.

--Placing transportation revenue control in the Governor and Legislature --There is a comprehensive policy and accountability one stop shop needed at the state's Department of Transportation, but to usurp the revenue from those that are closest to and most understanding of the problems facing Minnesota, flies in the face of logic. MnDOT has suffered under the direction of the Governor and the Legislature for too long. It is without wonder that other entities have picked up the slack and provided leadership and revenue to meet the needs of the region and the state.

I would appreciate you sharing these comments with the leadership of the Civic Caucus and at least those who attended the last discussion on this topic, but please refrain from broadcasting my words to the entire group. Write or call if any questions.

David Broden (10) (10) (7) (6)
Question 1 Clearly the governor is the only person who can lead by setting policy and setting goals and direction for priorities and action. This also moves away from some of the pet projects that each of the independent groups seems to be having.
Question 2: The basic management need for clarity of responsibility with links to accountability is hard to find for transportation. There definitely needs to be creative reorganization and clarity of who does what.

Question 3: Keep what we have working is a must and should be a priority. However, if a reasonable criteria can be established and the construction of "new" transportation capability will enable the jobs to become real this construction should be done. We need a criterion that effectively links to jobs.

Question 4: User taxes should do the majority of transportation costs, but if gas tax and other so called user taxes cannot do the job in a restructured transportation leadership plan, then we need to see how transportation fits into a completely new sState revenue plan. Users will have to be the payers under the current revenue system but if we change the way we get funds maybe a balance should be on the table because of the role of transportation to jobs etc.

Harlan Finney (5) (7) (8) (5)

Charles Lutz (9) (9) (5) (5)

John Detert (10) (10) (10) (10)

David Pierson (6) (10) (8) (2)

Matt Kane (3) (6) (7) (_)

Transportation and the economy: Freight is absolutely critical when it comes to key transportation issues for the state. That said, the construct that examines the movement of raw materials above that of people likely misses a key shift in the economy. For a significant share of Minnesota’s businesses today, the important “raw material” is in fact the workforce. That being the case, the movement of people to work is more important for many businesses than the movement of lumber, taconite, soybeans and other raw materials. Workers trump goods for many of these businesses, too. And for some service businesses, moving people to client locations is the transportation issue of concern. This doesn’t downgrade the importance of freight movement, but it does highlight the need to consider the movement of people as itself an stand-out issue for Minnesota businesses.

New construction/maintenance: This is particularly important, as noted, when the expansions lead to increased maintenance and upkeep costs at a time when the state is struggling to adequately maintain and keep up the existing infrastructure.

Federal matching dollars: Worth noting that federal dollars for road projects is provided to the states usually without much direction pertaining to how the state spends those dollars or which projects are selected. Much of the federal funding is provided to the states through funding formulas for federal highway and transit programs. As for earmarks, discussed throughout, a share of the federal funding comes through a program whereby Congress designates high priority projects – thus the concerns about earmarks. That said, it is off target to conclude that the current funding approach on the part of the federal government is dominated by earmarks. I would suggest looking into this issue a bit more. The federal government’s High Priority Projects Program, which accounts for most of the earmarks that draw criticism, amounts to – on average – 7.4 percent of the annual federal transportation funded included in the SAFETEA-LU from fiscal 2005 through fiscal 2009 (see http://www.fhwa.dot.gov/safetealu/safetea-lu_authorizations.pdf). On the issue of returning the taxes paid, as it stands now, each state gets back a minimum guaranteed amount equal to 92 percent of its federal gas taxes, up from 90.5 percent under the last reauthorization.

Choice of modes: As you know from some of the interviews you’ve conducted, rail has a higher capital cost and a lower operational one, while buses have higher operating costs but lower capital costs. Buses make sense in many locations, both because of their flexibility and because of the demand. In others places, buses have draw backs. By way of example, the University Ave. stretch of the proposed Central Corridor line already has buses running at intervals of less than 10 minutes each and still has trouble meeting the demand for transit. Better to look at a system that can run multiple cars than to run a constant stream of individual buses along such a corridor. In some instances, fixed rail transit can also affect development in ways that reduce the need for car travel and thus helps reduce congestion over the long term as land use changes. Don’t misinterpret this comment: bus rapid transit is a very useful approach. I believe the mode needs to match the circumstances. I wouldn’t suggest that rail is always the way to go. Probably not wise to suggest that buses are either

Non-downtown destinations: Structuring transit to serve areas with low job densities is incredibly difficult. Hard to make it cost effective to run buses (or any other form of transit) to scattered jobs sites. And the time required for such trips is likely more than riders are willing to put up with. Consequently, transit has focused on locations where it is feasible to move lots of people to locations within short distances of their work sites – that is places dense with jobs. The goal has been to make the system efficient, even at the risk of criticism for ignoring service to many areas. The downtowns stand out, as does the Mall of America/Airport location. Good to call forth the suburb-to-suburb issue, but better to do so in the context of the challenge. Not sure there’s an easy answer for how to move a relatively small number of persons to low-density jobs areas or isolated job sites. Given what makes sense from a transit system standpoint, it does help to pull from the roads and onto transit the people who are headed for locations with high concentrations of jobs. Not sure the public would be willing to pay the price for regular and quick service from any Twin Cities area location to any other one.

Earmarking: I’d suggest fact-checking this, particularly as it relates to federal funding. The process for federal funding of transit systems involves a much smaller federal match and much higher requirements for meeting thresholds for a federally prescribed cost-effectiveness index. In addition, when it comes to new starts on rail or bus service, localities must compete nationwide with other communities in order to secure the federal funding. (This is why the Met Council is concerned that they might lose potential federal funding for the Central Corridor line if recent challenges to the route delay progress and prompt federal officials to bypass Minnesota and put their money elsewhere.) The federal requirements, benchmarks and process is one reason why some have said that it would be hard to quickly spend economic stimulus funds on rail. On the road side of the equation, there are no requirements for cost effectiveness. (See http://growthandjustice.typepad.com/my_weblog/2008/02/federal-transpo.html for a blog on this topic.) Not sure where your conclusion comes from for the paragraph above. If you’ve researched the issue and you’re on target, great. If it’s an impression you have, I’d urge further research into the issue. It’s possible, too, that I’ve misread your point, here.

Influencing development: As noted above, shaping land use and development can influence the need for the car travel that clogs our roads. An issue that developers often confront is their desire to pursue the classic urban development opportunities--more dense, mixed use development--is often not possible because of local zoning restrictions. There's lots of talk about wanting more walkable, transit-friendly areas, but not a lot of opportunity to pursue them.

State Rep. Bernie Lieder (8) (5) (7) (10)

Malcolm McLean (10) (5) (5) (7)

Question 1: The Governor has to have the ultimate authority in planning for transportation. He must, of course, work with the Legislature in getting ideas, encourage legislation and securing funding.

Question 2: That statement may be mostly true but we can't stop there. The larger good must be advanced. In a way, this overlapping, etc, reminds me a bit of the fierce inter-service rivalry that causes so much trouble in the Defense Department and in the national budget.

Question 3: I can't respond definitively on this. I just don't know enough. I do see, though, a problem. If the statement were true, would we then turn down a project substantially funded by the federal government even if it weren't at the top of the Minnesota list? I doubt it very much. So there is a lot of nuance in this question.

Question 4: I don't think we could ever eliminate transportation entirely from the budget; it is simply too important. However, more vigorous adoption of user fees and taxes could help.

John S. Adams (8) (9) (9) (9)
Question 1: Summary does not mention airports and air freight, or city streets that are not part of regional arterials. I have to think about the boundary issues in line with the "principle of subsidiarity."

Question 3: The summary does not delve into the tug or war that accompanies (1) the long list of subsidies that promote new suburban development over inner-city and inner-suburb redevelopment vs. (2) the continuing need to finance operations and maintenance after new transportation systems are put in place to handle subsidized new development. One way to respond to this challenge would be for the legislature to authorize the levying of "development impact fees" so that cities, counties and school districts could more easily finance needed expansion while promoting re-use and refurbishing of existing facilities

Joe Mansky (10) (10) (5) (10)
Question 1. Given the deterioration of our transportation system over the past 25 years and the concurrent increase in use, I would conclude that inattentiveness or lack of interest from the governor’s office may be a significant factor in all of this. And, to be fair, legislative indifference has also been a factor.

Question 2. Regrettably, long range planning is not a strength of our state government.

Question 3. I’m not sure about this one. Should we abandon some of our existing infrastructure in preference for new capital projects that better meet our needs in the future? It’s a fair question.

Question 4. Not to say that transportation does not deserve support from the general fund, but that it is better suited than most activities to be supported by dedicated and user-based revenue sources. However, we should remember that non-drivers gain benefits from our roads, drivers benefit from people using transit and not competing for space on the roads, etc. The question then becomes how best to allocate the fair share of costs to beneficiaries who are not users.

Robert J. Brown (9) (10) (8) (6)
Question 1: While the Governor must provide leadership, the transportation policy should be developed by a state planning agency as part a comprehensive plan that deals with other functions including housing, education, and economic development. Once comprehensive plans are developed the implementation of transportation plans should be directed by the State Department of Transportation. We created the DOT in the 1970s to do this (integrated transportation planning and implementation), but unfortunately politics undermined the goal at that time.

Question 3: Some new facilities may be needed as part of a comprehensive plan based on projections for population growth and movement, but there should be something like a fiscal note for any new project that would consider the cost of ongoing maintenance as well as the cost of construction. One of the problems with higher levels of government building transportation infrastructure and then turning upkeep over to lower levels of government (e.g., federal interstate highways or the state “turning back” state highways to counties) is that the people who get credit for the new stuff don’t have any responsibility to maintain it and the local people minimal say over what is dumped in their lap.


Question 4: I look at this as analogous to the problem in cities where a decision must be made to assess adjacent property owners for street improvements or to pay for them out of general revenue. Both the individual and the community as a whole benefit from these improvements and there should be some kind of shared responsibility. Thus I can see that user fees should pay a significant share of costs, but there should be some share paid by the community as a whole. It is important that the division of costs be done in a transparent manner based on a well thought out policy.

David Pundt (10) (10) (10) (9)

Jim Martin (10) (10) (10) (10)

I agree that an overall state transportation policy be developed and maintained to provide balanced priorities. I feel also that maintenance of existing systems should be a greater priority than "new build", however safety improvements should have equal priority with
maintenance.

Carolyn Ring (10) (10) (8) (6)

Peter Hennessey

Missing from this discussion is a fundamental philosophical question: is it the proper role of government to be "planning, building, maintaining, and financing roads, buses, and rail systems" and what role, if any, does good old American free enterprise have in any of this?

Let's face it, as long as we still let people live and work where they choose, we will have problems -- there will always be people stupid enough to live under a flight path, next to the freeway, or many tens of miles from work. As long as bureaucrats substitute their judgment for free market solutions, we will have. As long as we accept the notion that some problems are too big for anybody but government to solve, we will have even bigger problems -- look at the TARP mess now...

Once upon a time we did have private passenger railroads that went where people needed to go and people went where the trains could take them; cute little suburbs thrived along the commuter rail lines, such as the Philadelphia Main Line, the Long Island Railroad, etc. Once upon a time we did have private light rail in competition with other private rail on the same streets; our cities big and small had street cars running all day throughout all their neighborhoods. And we even had some private roads, though that notion flies in the face of our tradition of open country and free travel, especially here in the West.

So let's not forget that the present problem was created by the federal government, first by its zealous persecution of Big Evil Railroad beginning in the anti-trust era, then by going into competition with them by building roads and freeways using its powers of eminent domain, taxation and subsidies. It was city and regional government that ripped up or paved over most light rail beginning in the 1920's, consolidated the rest, and ran them into the ground through patronage and cushy union rules.

So now the same doctor that gave us poison masquerading as an elixir now presumes to give us more of the same poison masquerading as medicine. How nice. I suggest that you please use this Caucus as a forum for intellectual honesty, and broaden the range of possible solutions to go beyond textbook fascism and socialism.

Shirley Heaton
Once the position paper has been agreed upon, there should be a covering statement prioritizing the elements ; i.e., what should be done first.

Roger Scherer (0) (0) (3) (8)

Bill Kuisle (8) (1) (8) (3)

Question 2: MNDOT has great power on the state goals. They have the power to say where and when another jurisdiction's roads intersect with state roads. With this power, they have the needed muscle to set the goals in planning that they need.

Question 4: I don't believe user fees were intended to be the only source for roads. If roads and bridges are a priority, then fund with whatever methods needed.

Tim McDonald

I think a bold call for leadership, as discussed and pointed out here (nobody is pointing it out), is probably one of the more significant contributions we can make.

Also, this is not an issue to get up in arms about regarding 'local rights.' I think this group helps to diffuse that.

Mary Tambornino (10) (0) (5) (5)

Peter McLaughlin (0) (2) (3) (0)

This is the same failed centralized course that has led us, until recently, to the abject failure to invest adequately. Why you believe a Governor who opposed Hiawatha and Northstar as a legislator, foisted additional responsibility for operating costs onto the property tax once he became Governor [not part of the deal], required a referendum on MVST in order to garner his support and vetoed the 2008 transportation bill that capitalized the latest round of transportation investments is beyond me.

Lyall Schwarzkopf (8) (9) (7) (9)
 

    

The Civic Caucus   is a non-partisan, tax-exempt educational organization.   The Core participants include persons of varying political persuasions, reflecting years of leadership in politics and business. Click here  to see a short personal background of each.

   Verne C. Johnson, chair;  Lee Canning,  Charles Clay, Bill Frenzel, 
Paul Gilje,  Jim Hetland,  John Mooty,  Jim Olson,  Wayne Popham  and  John Rollwagen.  


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The Civic Caucus, 01-01-2008
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