Dayton and the DFL Punt on Transportation (Again)

The Story So Far…

Back in 2010, the DFL as we know it was almost annihilated when Tom Emmer, a slightly meaner version of Scott Walker, was almost elected with trifecta control of the state government. Picture the kinds of protests they had in Madison, only without the beer on Sundays.

Thankfully that didn’t happen. Instead Mark Dayton won and then two years later, the DFL regained control of both state houses. Next, the Governor commissioned a blue ribbon panel of experts and leaders to work on a new transportation policy. They did just that, and recommended a bunch of changes to tax policy to fund roads (mostly maintenance) and metro area transit.

Next, the legislature and the governor pretty much ignored those recommendations, opting instead to focus on a bunch of other things (stadia, the income tax, refunds). Basically, they punted.

Now we’re at an impasse. The football in this last legislative sesion was the MoveMN proposal, which would have funded transit investment through a Metro-area sales tax and kickstarted aBRT and LRT investment in the region. (Though a mixed bag, I believe the MoveMN proposal is the best we can do given the present political realities.)

Anyway, that didn't happen either. The DFL punted again. Here’s the letter from Dayton's media liason:

Dear Mr. Lindeke,

Thank you for taking the time to contact our office and sharing your thoughts on transportation infrastructure in Minnesota. Governor Dayton shares your commitment to developing an effective and cost-efficient statewide transportation network.  Since taking office, the Governor has worked with the Legislature to make high-impact investments in Minnesota's road, bridges, and mass transportation systems.

In 2013, Governor Dayton signed into law the $300 million Corridors of Commerce program that funds shovel-ready highway construction projects across Minnesota.  These projects will reduce congestion, increase safety for travelers, and help businesses move goods and services – growing our economy and helping create new jobs.  Governor Dayton also understands the importance of mass transportation, which is why he worked with the Legislature to restore more than $180 million in funding for transit operations.

In his 2014 bonding bill, the Governor has proposed new investments that build on these past transportation initiatives.  The Governor's proposal would invest nearly $100 million road, bridge, and transit improvements across Minnesota.

In addition to these investments, Governor Dayton remains committed to investing in Minnesota's roads, bridges, and mass transit systems in the future.  Once again, thank you for contacting our office.  Please continue to contact us with your questions and concerns. 


Yassin Omar

Citizen Outreach Liaison
Office of the Governor and
Lt. Governor

Chris Kluwe would be proud.

"Corridors of Commerce"

Just like in football, punting isn’t necessarily a bad option, provided the DFL can maintain control of the state house (by no means a sure thing). But the most frustrating thing is the Dayton spokesperson touting the “corridors of commerce” program as a triumph.

I’ve written before about the Corridors of Commerce (CoC) program. Basically, this is what Chuck would call a slush fund for roads, where a politicized ad hoc committee prioritizes projects for MNDOT, and bypasses the usual procedures …

Somehow this money pot was set up and supported by normally civic minded DFL legislators, and so far the CoC money has been used for the worst kind of exurban freeway expansions and rural Minnesota bypass projects.

Here’s my earlier analysis of the $300M CoC project, from a January streets.mn post:
If you look at the recently released “Corridors of Commerce” proposal, MNDOT’s seems focused on expanding sprawl. The two largest items are an expansion of I-94 by exurban Rogers (pop 10,000) and an expansion of the 610 ring road out past the edge of Maple Grove (also near Rogers). These two (very similar) freeway expansions account for over half of the $300M “corridors of commerce” budget.

Nate has done similar analysis of CoC projects, and while there might be some good safety improvements (particularly for busy 2-lane rural highways), the vast majority of Dayton’s special slush fund has gone for the worst kind of road expansion, the very stuff that we should be steering away from in the state’s low-car, high-maintenance future.

There’s Always Next Year

This is a familiar refrain to any Minnesota sports fan, so maybe I should be used to it by now. The one good thing about waiting another year (or more) for the transit stars to align is that with each passing year, the declining VMT trend becomes more clear. With each passing year, the cost of climate change becomes more obvious. With each passing year, demographic and cultural desire for alternatives to the single-passenger car grows hotter.

Given a continued DFL trifecta after next year’s election, I’m expecting that next year’s legislative session will have a very strong push for a sustainable source of revenue for transit. Anything less, Dayton’s transit failure will rank up there with great moments in Viking history.

1 comment:

Doug T said...

This is spot on. That "corridors of commerce' fund is a joke. More cynically and perhaps accurately, it's construction jobs and slightly faster commutes in swing districts fund. Admittingly this can pay some short term political dividends. However, economically speaking, the government is in denial to the fact that the return on investment on widening freeways or highways is very poor, and it's a terrible use of bonding dollars.

Ultimately, we have to win the argument that mass transit and pedestrian and bike improvements are where we should be investing, not in expanding and widening highway networks. It's going to be a tough argument to win for quite a few yeas.