The Metropolitan Council presented its State of the Region report last Monday -- the same day many Twin Cities motorists faced gridlock caused by a few inches of overnight snow.
Still, the annual event came amid signs that an emerging consensus might speed up long-delayed transit investment.
One was the setting for the council's meeting -- St. Paul's beautifully refurbished Union Depot, which next year will service the newly opened Central Corridor light-rail line.
Another was the Feb. 10 Star Tribune story, "Suburbs open to transit tax." It detailed the increasing willingness of some in Scott and Dakota counties to accept -- and benefit from -- Gov. Mark Dayton's bold proposal to add a quarter-cent sales tax in seven metro counties in order to fund transit infrastructure and operations. (The quarter-cent sales tax that's already in effect for five counties would remain.)
The new transit revenue would have a dramatic impact on the region. It would eventually replace most state funding for metro-area transit funding and instead rely on the counties that most directly benefit from more transit options.
By 2016, the new tax would raise up to $250 million annually. It would fund the remaining $118 million of the state's share of the proposed Southwest light-rail line, and would fund capital and operating expenses of future transitways and bus service expansion. It would address all funding shortfalls for current bus and rail commitments, and expand the existing regional bus system by 1 percent annually. And over the next 20 years it would complete an infrastructure build-out, including the Southwest and Bottineau LRT lines, the Interstate 35W South bus rapid transit (BRT) line, the east-metro Gateway line (either LRT or BRT), up to a dozen potential arterial BRT or streetcar corridors, and up to five potential highway BRT corridors.
The political signs are becoming clearer as well. In a visit with the Star Tribune Editorial Board last week, House Speaker Paul Thissen said he supported the tax. "I do think it is the right public policy mainly because it is a practical solution. ... So I think the stars may be aligning." Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk was also supportive, but he said he'd like to see a more comprehensive approach.
"Clearly our transportation infrastructure statewide is stretched, and I would argue that transportation infrastructure is probably more important than even our overall tax policy is for economic development," Bakk said.
Lawmakers should take Bakk's advice and consider the entire state's needs. But they should also make sure they don't miss the opportunity to back Dayton's metro transit plan.
An editorial of the Star Tribune (Minneapolis).