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 Response Page - Peter McLaughlin Interview - Transportation   

These comments are responses to the questions listed below,
which were generated in regard to the
Peter McLaughlin interview of 03-28-08.

The questions:

1. _4.5 median___ On a scale of (0) strongly opposed, to (5) neutral, to (10) strongly support, how do you feel about a lead role for metro counties versus the Metropolitan Council for light rail, commuter rail, and busways?

2. _7.0 median___ On a scale of (0) strongly opposed, to (5) neutral, to (10) strongly support, how do you feel about using the sales tax as a source for rail and busways?

3. _5.0 median___ On a scale of (0) strongly opposed, to (5) neutral, to (10) strongly support, should guiding development be the main goal for rail transit in the Twin Cities area, rather than easing congestion?

Connie Morrison (5) (2) (0)
I feel LRT to be extremely expensive for the service it provides. It's far less flexible than buses. It should only be used in very dense areas, and lower densities should not have to subsidize to such an extent.

Darin Broton (4) (8) (4)

Bob Brown (2) (5) (5)
We had a proposal for a subway (now called light rail) system in the 1960s. Had there been action started by the 1970s we would have a completed system by 2010 - and at a much lower cost due to pricing at the time and much, much lower cost of property acquisition. While I am not a fan of government borrowing, these major infrastructure projects are best funded by bonding so the money can be obtained up front and the users will help pay the cost over 20 or 30 years - much like a responsible, fixed rate home

I don't think we should get caught up in development vs. congestion dichotomy - both issues are important. I always thought Professor Anderson's proposal for Personal Rapid Transit (PRT) was the best approach with its rings and spokes system. It is frustrating looking at transportation issues in a piecemeal and short term fashion. And there has to be one entity at the metro or state level that has primary responsibility and authority to avoid an inefficient patchwork of transportation plans and programs. I was one of the senate authors of the bill that created the state Department of Transportation, hoping that could lead to coherent transportation planning and development, but it now appears that DOT is just a political football and the full time legislators now are trying to micromanage transportation the way they have done with education. What's next?

Marina Lyon (3) (6) (1)
County leaders, by design, are not macro thinkers, as evidenced by McLaughlin's comment about being a project/opportunity guy.

If development is the guide, then all lines should be built in and through distressed neighborhoods/parts of the Twin Cities--which negates the need for rails beyond the inner-ring suburbs.

Joe Mansky (6) (4) (10)
Although the Met Council should have the lead role in transit, I understand the counties' frustration with the lack of action along those lines.

I am not a strong supporter of the use of the sales tax for transit funding. My preference would be a set of transportation-related taxes or fees, one of which might be a parking tax.

John Finnegan (0) (10) (7)
Control over the system should remain with the Met Council. It should be given the sales tax revenue for the purpose.

Clarence Shallbetter (2) (1) (1)

Bright Dornblaser (10) (8) (5)
1. 10 given the State has not adequately funded Met Council for these purposes.

2. 8 because although I would prefer a less regressive tax, progressive taxation is not politically feasible for this purpose at this time.

3. 5 because while I strongly support congestion pricing I agree with taking the opportunity obtain available federal funding for a part of the long range transit plan that is immediately available for development.

Alan Miller (10) (10) (5)

Craig Westover, Free Market Institute report
Congestion is a problem, but it is a good problem to have. Traffic congestion is the result of a vibrant economy. Policymakers must accept that congestion is a market-driven phenomenon and manage congestion to maximize “mobility” – the ability of people to get from where they are to where they want to go to do what they want to do when they want to do it. That approach is a sharp contrast to the “tax first plan later” strategy for massive, across-the-board investments in transportation – especially light rail in the seven-country metro area.

It is ignorant at best and disingenuous at worst to tell Minnesotans that they will achieve any real relief from the costs of congestion by paying higher taxes, even if those taxes are dedicated to transportation. Only by grasping the multifaceted nature of congestion – considering congestion as a market-driven phenomenon in the context of Levels of Service – can we develop a coherent strategy for reducing congestion that is focused on the lowest cost/highest benefit solutions.

David Baker (0) (10) (8)
I agree that it would help if Met Council members were elected. But either way, Met Council not counties must take the lead on a huge regional project like mass transit.
I don't see how the Twin Cities will maintain a robust economy if we don't go toward light rail and other forms of transit. Very few people will be able to afford to drive cars 20 years from now. Minnesota used 30% more gasoline /per capita/ in 2005 than it did in 1960. How long can this continue, with peak oil rapidly approaching, especially with instability (wars, absolute monarchies, severe corruption) in most oil producing nations?

Bob White (9) (9) (6)
This discussion illuminates the metro transportation planning dilemma. Lots of governmental units have a hand in it, but none is really in charge. In that situation, which has endured for years and shows no signs of changing, I think Peter is absolutely right: Don't make the perfect the enemy of the good. In this case, the core counties are the good -- collectively, but especially under McLaughlin's urging, they have been working on transit plans for a long time. Sure, it would be great if the metro council took the lead. But it hasn't done so in the past, is not leading now, and is unlikely to be top transit gun in the foreseeable future.

I used to think the counties were mistaken to push their own transit plans like LRT. Some years ago I changed my mind. Because, again, no one else is really doing the job, and waiting for the perfect gets us nowhere. The counties have the depth of staff with management skills to initiate and oversee. And now some money to work with.

Transit will ease, but not cure, traffic congestion. Whatever the purpose, it will have an effect on development. So I give a nudge (6 out of 10) to making development guidance an important though not the only purpose.

David Broden (2) (8) (3)
County decisions certainly might currently have more decision making and ability to fund vs. the Metro Council but we need an area wide not a fragmented plan and implemented structure. We need to address authority changes as well as what has to be done. Until that can happen someone must provide area or statewide oversight-whether the metro council
can/should do this or the state says yes/no to county decisions does not make for good decisions etc. The idea of a project focus vs. a planning focus will bring results, but are they the right results for the long term? We need a thoughtful balance.

Sales tax should be one of the tax sources--how the sales tax is used should such as capital vs. operational vs. study/planning is a key decision--it should be a fixed use not spread to many uses or used as a general type distribution.

We need to build for both or congestion will persist and grow as new development evolves. I do not see how we can do only one or the other --we need to look at both and then do some wise decision making to provide a balanced implemented approach.

Wayne Jennings (4) (10) (6)

Ray Schmitz (3) (3) (10)
1. 3 - It surprised me that when I looked at the met council make up there are no local/county elected officials, ex state legislators and civic leaders but why no officials, that being said it seems that putting county boards into the mix just begs for duplication. I agree that commissioners and city councilers should be part of the met council.

2. 3 - The cost of transportation has little or no relationship to sales tax generation, I feel strongly that we need to move to taxes that are more closely linked to what they finance. Property values are more closely linked to good transportation, thus property taxes for transportation combined with use taxes. Sales taxes seem more linked to education, good jobs = high taxes (at least in MN where necessities, food clothing etc are not taxed). Property taxes also pay for services, police, fire, etc. that are extended to all.

3 10 - The need to manage sprawl is vital, we have built a society that is not sustainable. See the movie "End of Suburbia", energy costs, carbon, etc. will force changes and the way to manage this is to build transportation systems that work in the context to discouraging further growth outward. The fact is that with job change it is not possible to design a road/rail system to that will not be overwhelmed before it is opened. We either force business to locate where transportation is or we will never get anywhere. Pittsburgh talked about brownfield development in the city industrial core at a "Good Jobs - Green Jobs" meeting earlier this month. They find that cleaning up and incentivising business to move to their old industrial core is much better for everyone than allowing development on the fringes with the problems that causes. The Ford plant appears headed for condos and the jobs to the fringes. Why not use that area for business so that workers are drawn back into the city where roads etc. are already in place. We already see that rather than workers moving from the suburbs to the city core they go from suburb to suburb but the systems are not designed to have that happen.

Scott Halstead (0) (5) (0)
The Metro area is in a real mess transit wise. The funding levels are still inadequate. We need an elected Met Council leading the way and not the Counties. There really isn't a metro wide transit or transportation plan, just the squeaky wheel with control of the funds. Our elected officials don't have an eye for the big picture. Development is clearly their priority even though the funds are dedicated to transit. If the Central Corridor is built as planned, we will replace a perfectly good bus system with a $900,000,000.+ light rail system with similar operational performance that has very limited capability to add riders from future transit lines. The suburban tax payers that will pay the bulk of the local and state taxes get no benefits. Congestion and air quality will suffer while our first 2 light rail systems provide 90% of their rides to Minneapolis and St. Paul residents that already had bus transit available.

An income tax surcharge would be preferable to the sales tax. People can avoid the sales tax.

Congestion relief should be the # 1 priority.

Al Quie (10) (9) (0)
The main goal of rail transit is to move people and that is a multi-county responsibility. Development, however, is a city and county responsibility and will happen as the private sector makes decisions. State leaders should engage as well not only for tax purposes, but planning ahead for lines some day to St. Cloud, Mankato and Rochester. Plan for the next 2 million people in Minnesota when fuel prices go higher and the effects of global climate change become even more apparent.

Bill Frenzel (4) (2) (2)
I thought we invented the Met Council at least partly because we did not have sufficient confidence in the county boards to think regionally rather then locally.

I have always been nervous about transit in our "un-dense" metro area, and I am appalled by the fare-box to total cost ratios. McLaughlin's testimony scared me, particularly with respect to question #3 above.

Malcolm McLean (4) (7) (7)
Very difficult for me to distinguish the relative importance of these goals. We should both help guide development, for example, and reduce congestion. They shouldn't be opposed to each other as both are needed. I learned from Peter McLaughlin's observations.

Charles Lutz (7) (9) (7)

Ed Dirkswager (__) (4) (2)
The Met Council shouldn't have a broader role until and unless its membership is chosen in a different manner. While imperfect I believe that Peter's suggestion that the Council be made up of elected officials representing the cities and counties is worth a try.

Royce Sanner (10) (8) (9)
I agree with McLaughlin that the Metro Council seems to have lost the leadership and planning function that once was a strong and valuable attribute. It seems today largely invisible and irrelevant to shaping public policy. I view it as more of an administrative arm of the state than as a body representing the region.

David Asp (4) (1) (1)
I do not feel that "guiding development" is an appropriate goal because the potential benefits of a centrally-planned system are outweighed by the risk that we will spend millions of dollars on an inflexible transit system that does not reflect how people actually live.

Ray Ayotte (5) (10) (5)

Tom Swain (5) (9) (9)

Robert Mairs (2) (5) (2)

Donna Anderson (10) (8) (8)

Gene Franchett (10) (7) (7)
Thanks for doing this. This is the kind of dialogue that has been missing for so many years.

Carolyn Ring (6) (10) (8)
Any rail transit should have some effect on congestion. Let's try to provide for the future as well as the present.

Ina Erickson (8) (5) (5)

Tim McDonald (5) (2) (1)
On two; There is a time for tax increases, but it should be the nightcap that makes up the difference after spending has been reigned in and reallocated from elsewhere.

On three; surely both needs must be considered, and I don't think easing congestion is being given a fair hearing. I am skeptical, always, of county administrators guiding development. Their role in doing so is helpful, but should be supplemented with the input and influence of other interested parties.

Chuck Slocum (5) (8) (5)
Unwisely, the die is already cast here for metro counties because of the infrastructure of the new sales tax transit funding system; we must give it a chance.

We needed more money; the sales tax has been tapped; the property tax alone is insufficient and I expect we will examine the income tax for this purpose as the critical needs are uncovered in the coming decade.

Serving the transportation needs of the public, home-to-work, shopping, etc. should be the main priority.

LRT and commuter rail must be a part of the future Twin Cities area. Clearly, the state needed a dedicated revenue stream for transit and a quarter of penny on the sales tax in five counties should produce the not insubstantial sum of $1B over the next decade.

Larry Schluter (8) (8) (0)
We need more comprehensive planning to relieve congestion using both road improvement and busing. Light rail will not relieve it and is too expensive.

Steve Alderson (0) (5) (10)

Lyall Schwarzkopf (2) (0) (3)

Jim Hetland (3) (2) (5)

Paul Hauge (5) (2) (5)

David Hutcheson (4) (9) (9)
#1 .. seems a stopgap measure which fails to come to grips with the need to reorganize the Met Council to deal with 17-21 counties instead of seven. #3 . . . if one looks far enough into the future, the two motives seem to merge.



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.  

The Civic Caucus, 01-01-2008
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Verne C. Johnson, chair, 952-835-4549,       Paul A. Gilje, coordinator, 952-890-5220.

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