Transit and roads go hand in glove. That’s why Metropolitan Council Chair Sue Haigh and state Transportation Commissioner Charles Zelle are teaming up to advocate for a comprehensive transportation package that addresses the needs of the state and region.
“We’re not keeping up,” Zelle told a crowd at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs on Oct. 30. “And that weakens the ability of the state and region to grow, compete and retain and attract needed talent.”
“To be competitive, we need to get goods to market and people to jobs,” said Haigh. “We have to meet the needs of an increasingly diverse population and market preferences of a generation that is driving less and texting more.”
In support of more funding for transit, Haigh cited the findings of the Governor’s Transportation Finance Advisory Committee (TFAC). TFAC found that regions with robust transit systems perform better and are choice destinations for employers and employees. And that lack of certainty about transit investment serves to delay private investment in nearby development.
Transit investments yield a great long-term return
“Transit is good for business, and investment in transit makes good business sense,” said Haigh, who cited an Itasca Project return-on-investment study showing a $4 billion build-out of the transit system would result in returns of up to $10 billion by 2045.
“Decisions we’re making today will serve generations for decades. We need to be bold and courageous,” she said.
Last year, the governor recommended, but the Legislature did not pass, a metro-wide half-cent sales tax dedicated to transit investment.
As for road investment, Commissioner Zelle said the governor asked him, in the wake of the TFAC recommendations, to crisscross the state and help residents better understand the funding need and priorities.
State needs to take lead in highway funding
“Minnesota has the fifth largest highway system in the country, with 140,000 combined miles,” said Zelle. “More than half of those highway miles and 35 percent of the state’s bridges are more than 50 years old.”
Aging infrastructure comes with a cost. MnDOT, in its Minnesota GO Transportation Vision, estimates the cost of needed improvements and strategic investments in the state’s transportation network exceed projected funding by $50 billion over 20 years. State highways and bridges alone need $12 billion.
With the uncertainty surrounding the reliability of federal transportation dollars, Zelle said states will have to take the funding lead.
“It’s not enough to simply raise the gas tax, said Zelle. “That’s not a comprehensive solution towards addressing the state’s need or vision for prosperity. It’ll take a menu of funding options and targeted investment.”
There’s no word yet on whether the 2014 Legislature will be asked to consider increased funding for transportation. Gov. Dayton has expressed an interest in a 2014 “UnSession,” focusing on eliminating unnecessary and redundant laws and making state government more efficient and streamlined.
That could put transportation on the docket in 2015.