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 Response Page  -  J. Kenneth Orski Interview  -  Transit Issues    

These comments are responses to the questions listed below,
which were generated in regard to the
J. Kenneth Orski Interview of 03-14-08.

The questions:

1. ____ On a scale of (0) strongly opposed, to (5) neutral, to (10) strongly support, what is the need for a strategic planning structure to coordinate major highway and transit projects among state, regional, county, and local jurisdictions ?

2. ____ On a scale of (0) strongly opposed, to (5) neutral, to (10) strongly support, how do you feel about pricing strategies, such as tolls, to reduce congestion?

The responses:

Larry Baker (10) (3)
There is increasing evidence that have already hit "peak oil", or are very close to that point. When we cross that threshold $4 gas will look like a 10-cent Dairy Queen. We need to build a mass transit system - the urban form will reform around main routes, evolving the way cities have always evolved. We also need to get out of our cars and start walking and biking. Finally, we can't leave this to engineers - citizens have to be involved in the early planning process. We haven't done that, to our peril. Ask an engineer to build a road, and the only question they're likely to ask is "how wide".

Paul Magnuson (5) (10)

David Broden (10) (5)

John Finnegan (10) (5)
I still believe that the public should support transportation and transit projects through taxes although setting up special toll roads on major highways outside the metro area would be acceptable.

Matt Kane (5) (7)
I do believe that the state could use a more forceful vision of favored transportation approaches and their interplay. But as is, the state engages periodically in strategic planning across transportation modes, which you may be aware of already. The last major planning document was published in August 2003 for 2003 to 2023 (downloadable at
STP.pdf and covering highways, transit, freight, passenger, air, other in a strategic fashion). I believe the new one is due out in 2009, also for 20 years. The 20-year plans would serve as an easy answer to calls for strategic planning by MnDOT across transportation modes.

The trick is to structure them (pricing strategies) in a way that is responsive to public goals and not private interests.

Keith Swenson (10) (0)

Chuck Slocum (10) (8)
The good news here is that Minnesota does not appear to be a laggard in that its transportation policymaking closely resembles those of other states. The bad news is that there are not other state models to emulate.

I am intrigued with the potential for market/user based pricing solutions to generate necessary transportation funding, in addition to the other means--bonding, gasoline tax, registration fees, MVET, etc. We need a long term and stable funding base around which to plan.

Generally, I see more potential for the Twin Cities regarding transit solutions than was discussed in the group. It is clear from urban examples across the globe that such systems do influence housing, commercial/industrial development, other public investments, etc. For us Twin Citians, it is a different way of living in the urban area.

The development of an integrated, cost aligned transportation plan for Minnesota is long past due; I also agree that the Met Council is an underused resource here.

Ray Schmitz
This came across my e-desk recently, the authors (DOT) are suggesting that planners need to incorporate climate change into transportation planning. This includes both the physical (structural) design as well as the capacity.

Phil Cohen (10) (0)
Re: Strategic Planning- There is a definite need to have local planning, zoning, etc. to mesh with proposed and existing transportation & transit operations. There is also the issue of Municipal Consent that tempers highway planners concepts, but also can hamper building and/or reconstruction of roads and highways that may affect more than one city in a given corridor.

Re: Toll Roads- Toll Roads go against the purpose that was advocated by President Eisenhower in 1956 to create a interstate highway system to construct "freeways" to move freight, get to work and take vacations. It was also built to move troops and evacuate civilians in case of such need. Also, gas taxes and user fees have fueled that expansion in the 1950's changing the landscape overnight. In the past decade there has been the push for "Toll Roads and Metered HOV lanes' to respond to the need for new or expanded highways as opposed to raising the gas tax and users fees. The danger in going the "Toll Road" route is to learn from the sale of Toll Roads in Illinois and Indiana to foreign investors. One can envision a scenario where Toll Roads are built and at some point in time there is another state shortfall and to get a quick cash infusion the Toll Road is sold to a ready and willing foreign investor. Ref., Foreign Companies Buying U,S Roads & Bridges, Jul.15, 2006;, Dvorak Uncensored, 7-16-2006

Re: Alternative Highway/ Bridge Sources of Revenue: There have been several proposals to deal with the loss of gas tax revenue as cars get better mileage and "hybrid options" come into play. Those should be the subject of extensive public discussion and information before any legislation is enacted and signed into law.

Marianne Curry (10) (10)
I agree (10) that there is a need for coordinated planning. I do not agree with your hint at re-creating the State Planning Agency for that purpose or for the Metro Council to provide that function. I do believe that the authority of MNDOT should be expanded to cross-jurisdictional state-wide coordination. New structures at a time of funding shortages do not make sense to me, too expensive. Note from Orski's testimony that most states center that authority with the state departments of transportation.

I note that transit does little to relieve congestion from Orski's testimony and that ride-sharing has its limits as a strategy. If only 15% of jobs are in the St. Paul/Mpls. downtowns, we also need to understand what kind of jobs we are talking about. If people remain at their job site all day, that is one implication for planning. If the jobs are heavily sales-oriented requiring sales calls or frequent departures during working hours, that is another.

Capturing value added to property taxable assessments to support transit is a good idea, but where do you draw the line between benefited and non-benefited properties? Determinations must be made site by site, I think, depending upon the configuration of public services and housing. Local governments are best able to make that judgment.

The business community needs to get serious about staggered work hours to reduce peak hour congestion.

Clarence Shallbetter (10) (10)

Paul Hauge (10) (8)

Craig Westover
Great interview. Couple of points.

First, it's going to be difficult if not impossible to move to move to statewide strategic planning for transportation until we resolve all of the pots of transportation and capital investment money into a single pot. State resources are state resources. All capital investments -- roads, transit, zoo exhibits, hockey arenas, bioengineering buildings and the like -- should be prioritized and funded accordingly.

Second, ultimately, transportation is about mobility -- getting people from where they are to where they want to go to do what they want to do when they want to do it. Congestion is a market-driven creature created by economic vitality. Rush hour is rush hour because a lot of people are going to work. As the consultant noted -- when congestion decreases, pent up demand fills the gap. This is a good thing. I'm not sold on congestion pricing -- the pent-up demand issue works to bring congestion to equilibrium. Is it just to make people pay twice -- taxes and congestion pricing -- 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? Tolls are a better idea because they allow choice. Congestion pricing limits mobility.

Third, missing from the discussion was cost benefit analysis. The consultant noted that transit doesn't solve congestion problems (some we at the Free Market Institute have been saying for a while now) and it doesn't decrease travel time between the cities. So what makes it worth nearly $1 billion dollars that could pay for 4-5 projects the size of the 35E/694 interchange project? or build two 35W bridges?

Finally, Oberstar is part of the problem, not part of the solution. Every time he secures federal money for an 8th district highway project that is not on the state priority list, state matching funds must be diverted from higher priority projects so Minnesota doesn't "waste" the opportunity to secure federal money. Earmarks are damaging, not helpful to Minnesota's transportation system.

Charles Lutz (9) (6)

Malcolm McLean (7) (10)
I was impressed by Orski's comment on the viability of pricing mechanisms to mitigate traffic congestion. They should be applied more fully. On the first question, planning among the various jurisdictions would be good. My grade of 7 reflects my belief that it will be very hard to accomplish it, however.

Ward Ring (10) (5)
Coordination between all levels of government is a "must" in planning of roads and mass transit. This is especially true in the much needed suburb to suburb travel. I agree those who use the roads should, in some instances, pay. However, as stated, it should be done without toll booths and as efficient a method as possible so as not to slow down traffic. Monthly passes work well in some areas.

Ed Dirkswager (4) (8)
I am in favor of creating a means to bring together all parties, on a regional basis, in various regions of the state to share individual plans and to attempt to get the parties to coordinate their activities those activities. These efforts should be organized by a "disinterested" third party. This could have been done by the State Planning Agency as we once knew it. I am not at all enthused about setting up a structure to coordinate activities if that means the structure would have the power to make decisions for MnDOT, counties or cities. If coordinate means that the parties would be brought together to share information and discuss priorities I would be in favor of it.

Scott Halstead (10) (10)
Thank you for the excellent interview. Minnesota and the metropolitan area have very fragmented transportation/transit and the additional sales tax with the metro counties is not going to help. We need an elected Met. Council which includes coordinated transportation/transit/financing.

I still advocate fees for parking to improve land use, reduce runoff, improve water quality, encourage ride sharing, raise funds for roads and transit and receive funding from individuals employed in the metro area and living outside the area.

Eric Schubert (10) (10)
We would benefit greatly from a non-partisan state Minnesota Planning office that can develop a vision, generate ideas and report to the public if we're making progress or not. Legislative taskforces just get bogged down or "put off" solutions.

Dave Durenberger (10) (10)

Jim Weaver (10) (0)
Infrastructure is an obligation of the State and Federal Governments and should be funded by bonding serviced by taxes.

Joe Mansky (10) (10)
We need to look more to "nonstructural" methods of dealing with our transportation problems, such as congestion pricing, elimination of "free" parking, more effective ramp metering, telecommuting, and so on. One idea worth exploring would be whether it would be beneficial to stagger the start times of various businesses and public enterprises so that the peak load is reduced. Does everyone need to report to work at 8:00am?

Improved use of human factors research would also be useful in the design/redesign of our highways. An example: those who use 35E to enter downtown St Paul from the north are familiar with the backup that often occurs in the morning. Part of this phenomenon is due to the curve in the road at the Cayuga bridge that does not permit drivers to see down
the roadway. The behavioral response to this situation is to step on the brakes, even when the highway is not near its carrying capacity.

Your writer correctly states that transit will not reduce substantially reduce traffic congestion. What transit is more effective at doing is altering land use patterns, which can be beneficial in the very long term.

Finally, the A-95 review process was eliminated by the Reagan administration in 1982 as a part of its "New Federalism" program. I think the idea was to reduce federal participation and rules in local decision-making.

Sheila Kiscaden (8) (4)

Bill Frenzel (10) (10)

Larry Schluter (10) (9)
We need to do more comprehensive planning for roads in MN. As the costs are rising for all types of road construction, planning is becoming more important. I find it interesting that most of the traffic is cross suburban and the most coast effective way of dealing with that is by private passenger vehicles.

I used to be against toll roads but after seeing what other states are doing and the difficulty of getting revenue for roads it may be a main source. The amount I recently paid on one toll road in KS recently was a lot more than 7 cents that was voted on recently. Also, we should not limit our choices by legislative action. It ties our hands in dealing with long term solutions.

Wayne Jennings (9) (6)

Lyall Schwarzkopf (10) (9)

Steve Alderson
The number of responses reflects the fact that Orski is one of the few persons interviewed who has a master's grasp of his topic and is not afraid to tell it like it is. His interview stood out for its content and candor. One of the problems we all have these days is that everybody is going out of their way to be politically correct and Minnesota nice. As a result nobody calls a spade a spade.

Donna Anderson  (1)  (7)



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, 
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The Civic Caucus, 01-01-2008
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