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 Response Page - Levinson  Interview -      
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These comments are responses to the statements listed below,
which were generated in regard to the 
David Levinson  interview of

How should we devise and pay for a competitive transportation system?


Minnesota does not need new transportation projects in order to be competitive, according to David Levinson of the University of Minnesota. There are some bottlenecks that could be addressed, he says, but the primary problem is that we've been spending too much on new capital projects and not enough on operating and maintaining the existing system of federal, state and local highways and roads.

User-fee revenues for highways, mainly gas-tax revenues, have been declining in recent years because of fewer trips, more fuel-efficient cars and political resistance at both the federal and state levels to raising the gas tax, he says. Also, a large share of federal Highway Trust Fund revenues have been diverted to pay for transit capital projects, although transit serves only about two percent of all trips nationally.

The solutions Levinson suggests include the following:

  • Use a dual approach to solving problems like traffic congestion: getting people to behave differently, while also finding technological solutions. 
  • Use more bonding, rather than pay-as-you-go, for highway projects.
  • Spin off the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) into a publicly owned public utility that would rely solely on user fees to fund roads and transit.
  • Move highways to full-cost pricing, using gas taxes, electronic toll collection and mileage-based user fees.
  • Charge transit riders the full fares and subsidize people who can't afford them out of general revenues. 
  • Implement a weight-distance tax on heavy vehicles.
  • Raise the diesel tax by one cent per gallon to help strengthen rural roads.
  • Reduce the number of paved rural roads in Minnesota by half.

For the complete interview summary see: Levinson interview

Response Summary: Average response ratings shown below are simply the mean of all readers’ zero-to-ten responses to the ideas proposed and should not be considered an accurate reflection of a scientifically structured poll.

To assist the Civic Caucus in planning upcoming interviews, readers rated these statements about the topic on a scale of 0 (strongly disagree) to 5 (neutral) to 10 (strongly agree): 

1. Topic is of value. (9.0 average response) The interview summarized today provides valuable information or insight.

2. Further study warranted. (8.8 average response) It would be helpful to schedule additional interviews on this topic.

Readers rated the following points discussed during the meeting on a scale of 0 (strongly disagree) to 5 (neutral) to 10 (strongly agree): 

3. Structure transportation as a utility. (7.2 average response) Transportation should be restructured as a public utility, with fees proportional to use as with other utilities such as electricity, water and sewer, natural gas and telecommunications.

4. Subsidize those in need. (6.7 average response) Transportation subsidies should be targeted directly to lower income persons, instead of subsidizing transportation for everyone.

5. Price highway use to recover costs. (7.2 average response) Highways should move to full-cost pricing, including gas taxes, electronic toll collection, and mileage-based user fees.

6. Recover costs of heavy vehicles. (9.1 average response) Heavy vehicles should pay based on weight and distance traveled.

7. Finance transportation with bonding. (6.4 average response) Because benefits are spread over many years, more transportation should be financed by bonding, rather than pay-as-you-go.

Response Distribution:

Strongly disagree

Moderately disagree


Moderately agree

Strongly agree

Total Responses

1. Topic is of value.







2. Further study warranted.







3. Structure transportation as a utility.







4. Subsidize those in need.







5. Price highway use to recover costs.







6. Recover costs of heavy vehicles.







7. Finance transportation with bonding.







Individual Responses:

Dave Broden (7.5) (10) (7.5) (0) (10) (7.5) (10)

1. Topic is of value. This was not a comprehensive look at transportation-- too much of narrow focus.

2. Further study warranted. Someone who really is objective regarding moving people, products, resources, to and from origin to use. Too many transportation quests have agenda, not objectivity.

3. Structure transportation as a utility. The utility concept is very intriguing and worth considering. If this is done there needs to be serious consideration of the role of transportation for public safety as well as basic quality of life and infrastructure.

4. Subsidize those in need. I am not against subsidies for appropriate persons or functions but there needs to some rationale before saying there must be [subsidies].

5. Price highway use to recover costs. Agree, but needs to be well thought out as to where the costs should be allocated and how to collect.

6. Recover costs of heavy vehicles. The specific cargo should also be a factor. For example, are food products the same as lumber, etc.?

7. Finance transportation with bonding. With bonding the cost is spread but even with that view the payoff source of revenue must be defined so that pay-as-you go applies to bonding payoff rate.

Scott Halstead (10) (10) (5) (10) (7.5) (10) (7.5)

6. Recover costs of heavy vehicles. We have allowed the rail system to fall into disrepair. Investment in rural rail would reduce the use of the highway system to move agricultural commodities and lower road maintenance and lower costs to the shippers. We need to invest in rail and pipelines. Reroute trains outside large cities, establish high tech transfer stations and have trucks pay for their real use. This is a much higher priority than local rail transit.

7. Finance transportation with bonding. The federal government should reduce the financing of metropolitan rail transit. We are utilizing transportation dollars to subsidize economic development while designing systems that are operating at 12 - 15 miles per hour, collecting minimal fares, not creating permanent jobs, not reducing road traffic congestion and have little current and long term benefit. Users are not paying. The taxes paying the cost could be much better utilized. Take a round trip on the green line.

Anonymous (7.5) (10) (5) (7.5) (7.5) (7.5) (5)

Sheila Kiscaden (10) (10) (7.5) (5) (7.5) (10) (5)

Ray Ayotte (10) (2.5) (7.5) (10) (10) (10) (7.5)

Sharon Sund (10) (10) (10) (7.5) (5) (10) (10)

3. Structure transportation as a utility. I still need to know more about this but it is an intriguing idea because we are not doing good enough at maintaining our roads and bridges.

4. Subsidize those in need. In practice, how would this work without adding bureaucracy?

5. Price highway use to recover costs. I need to hear more about how this would work practically.

6. Recover costs of heavy vehicles. The consumer ultimately pays of course.

7. Finance transportation with bonding. You make a good point.

David Dillon (10) (10) (10) (0) (10) (10) (10)

1. Topic is of value. Hugely important subject. Getting this right helps every single person in the state. It both helps our lives go better [and] it helps all of us have a successful economy to create wealth for each other.

3. Structure transportation as a utility. New thinking? Sounds brilliant.

4. Subsidize those in need. Maybe, but when a reform agenda grows it can stop the core issues from moving forward. The change is by nature neutral to the question of amount, degree or subsidies but risks being engulfed by the "how much" discussion.

5. Price highway use to recover costs. Yes. No distorting, anti-innovation subsidies for any transportation system.

7. Finance transportation with bonding. Unbelievable the government can't make a distinction between spending for long-term stuff and annual or short-term stuff. [This is] a poster child for incompetence fueling distrust and resistance to needed governmental spending. Every business, labor union, church and Junior Achievement project get this.

Don Anderson (7.5) (7.5) (10) (5) (5) (7.5) (5)

RC Angevine (10) (7.5) (10) (5) (7.5) (10) (7.5)

3. Structure transportation as a utility. Sounds like a good idea and getting it out of the hands of politicians would be a plus.

4. Subsidize those in need. Needs more study

7. Finance transportation with bonding. Never thought of it that way but makes good sense.

Norm Carpenter (10) (10) (10) (5) (10) (10) (7.5)

1. Topic is of value. Best summary I have read, and I have been (tangentially) involved since serving as MDOT counsel in late 1960s.

2. Further study warranted. Yes...let's hear from Commissioner Zelle and the Transit lobby. What about the build-it-and-they-will-come philosophy?

3. Structure transportation as a utility. New idea to me...worth considering but I think politically impossible.

4. Subsidize those in need. No...another qualification game.

5. Price highway use to recover costs. [We] need toll roads and we have for years.

7. Finance transportation with bonding. Yes...but more debt is an issue.

Phil Kinnunen (10) (10) (0) (10) (0) (10) (0)

1. Topic is of value. David is right, we need to stop spending money on mass transit and maintain what is already built.

2. Further study warranted. This is a problem that needs to be solved.

3. Structure transportation as a utility. This is where we disagree. David obviously has never lived for any longer period of time in a rural area. Toll roads are fine in metro areas where there is an alternative to using the toll road, but outstate Minnesota would suffer as tourism would decline and up north summer homes would become less attractive for metro area people. The solution should be for the private sector funding and building of the rail systems that are used by only 2 percent of the population, then put the revenue from gas taxes back where they belong, maintaining the roads. Also, electric cars are a good idea once they reach the point where they really are better for the environment than gas, but the taxing of them should be based on hourly usage rather than miles driven. This can be done by a "smart" meter which transmits the energy used to re-charge the vehicle whether it be from the grid or solar.

4. Subsidize those in need. Yes, the opposite is similar to the building of the church for Easter Sunday, but then only 2 percent of the church was full. There could be a way of figuring out who really needs a subsidy and verify its usage.

5. Price highway use to recover costs. Let's just get back to the highway gas taxes going to where they were intended in the first place. I believe many people would be very resistant to so much monitoring of our daily lives. The systems mentioned above would require and store times, location, speeds and who knows what else. What we really need is better politicians. Who is going to figure that one out?

6. Recover costs of heavy vehicles. If, by heavy vehicles, freight hauling is meant, yes, standard fees should apply across the board. Here again, trucking companies and truckers themselves already pay much more than does the average daily commuter or causal driver.

7. Finance transportation with bonding. Plan a road, find the money, build it, tax its use and use the revenues to maintain it. Simple.

Joe Lampe (10) (10) (10) (10) (10) (10) (7.5)

2. Further study warranted. Lower cost transit technologies should be explored, for instance Personal Rapid Transit at 1/6 the capital cost per connectivity mile and 1/2 the operating cost of LRT, with far better service characteristics and much higher daily trip share.

7. Finance transportation with bonding. Slight downside: this increases cost due to the interest paid on bonds.

Jerry Fruin (10) (7.5) (7.5) (10) (10) (10) (7.5)

Wayne Jennings (9) (9) (5) (4) (5) (6) (3)

I wonder what other experts have to say on the topic. That is, what are, if any, opposing views? This problem area needs better solutions than current practice and needs long-range thinking and solutions. This speaker provided provocative approaches. 

Paul Hauge (8) (8) (6) (7) (5) (8) (7)

Tom Spitznagle (8) (8) (5) (8) (5) (8) (8)

Margaret Donahoe (5) (10) (0) (4) (0) (10) (4)

I would welcome an opportunity to explain more about the Move MN campaign and provide a little different perspective on this issue. Some of these ideas have some serious downsides and many are just not politically realistic.

Chuck Lutz (9) (8) (10) (6) (8) (9) (9)

Roger A. Wacek (10) (10) (10) (10) (10) (10) (5)

David Detert (10) (9) (9) (10) (10) (10) (2)

Lyall Schwarzkopf (8) (8) (7) (7) (8) (8) (6)


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

  John S. Adams, David Broden, Audrey Clay, Janis Clay, Pat Davies, Bill Frenzel, Paul Gilje (coordinator), Randy Johnson, Sallie Kemper, Ted Kolderie, Dan Loritz (chair),
Tim McDonald, Bruce Mooty, John Mooty, Jim Olson, Paul Ostrow, Wayne Popham, Dana Schroeder, Clarence Shallbetter, and Fred Zimmerman

The Civic Caucus, 01-01-2008
2104 Girard Avenue South, Minneapolis, MN 55405.
Dan Loritz, chair, 612-791-1919   ~   Paul A. Gilje, coordinator, 952-890-5220.

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