After reading the Star Tribune story “Traffic jams will only get worse” (Aug. 4) amid the ongoing debate about whether tax increases are necessary to address transportation needs in Minnesota, I thought it instructive to share an example from Hennepin County that might lead one to conclude otherwise.

The County Board recently voted 5-2 (with Commissioner Mike Opat joining me in voting “no”) to proceed with the reconstruction of a portion of Washington Avenue at the north end of downtown. Traffic congestion on Washington near the intersection with Interstate 35W is particularly problematic — sometimes backing up traffic considerably.

I happen to believe we spend too little money on roads in Hennepin County, constantly diverting transportation dollars from roads and bridges to light rail, commuter trains, bike paths, pedestrian bridges, streetcar studies and any other debatable forms of transportation. Consequently, I absolutely support reconstructing Washington Avenue to help our residents get into, out of and through downtown Minneapolis as efficiently as possible.

Unfortunately, the plan to do so in this case is absurd.

Our solution to traffic congestion on the six-lane Washington Avenue? Make it four lanes and add a dedicated/protected bicycle track, wider sidewalks and more landscaping.

Lest you assume you misread that last sentence, let me restate our solution to traffic congestion on Washington Avenue: We are going to spend upward of $10 million to eliminate two of the six traffic lanes and make more room for bikes and pedestrians.

This plan is indicative of the widespread belief in government that we should spend taxpayers’ money to change the way they live their lives — and that we should spend transportation dollars in part to force people out of their automobiles rather than help them get from one place to another as quickly as possible.

It’s wonderful that there are people who choose to bike or walk to work downtown, and government should do what it can to make it convenient and easy to do so. But when we liberally spend to cater to that tiny minority at the direct expense of all of those who either need or choose to drive to work — and then argue that we don’t have enough money to fund roads without raising taxes again — it should come as no surprise when taxpayers push back.

Here’s the bottom line: Rather than always arguing that government needs more to perform its most basic functions, maybe those of us controlling the purse strings should be asking whether we’re wisely spending what we already have.

 

Jeff Johnson, of Plymouth, is a member of the Hennepin County Board. He was the 2014 Republican candidate for governor.