As mayors of communities in the Twin Cities metro area, we know firsthand how important a well-functioning transportation system is to our residents and businesses. When people and goods move efficiently, the economy benefits. When frequent bus or train connections are widely available, people who can’t drive — or who choose not to drive — have affordable access to jobs, schools and other key destinations. When safe bicycle and pedestrian connections are the norm, our neighborhoods and our Main Streets have much more vitality.
Like the metropolitan region as a whole, our cities are growing and facing real demands for transportation system improvements. Two fundamental transportation needs are looming: 1) adequate maintenance of our existing infrastructure — from roads and bridges to transit systems and sidewalks — and 2) the expansion of options for transportation by modes other than use of a motor vehicle.
Cost estimates for meeting these key needs across the state are well-documented. Extensive plans that identify where and how to improve roads and bridges, expand bus service, and retrofit streets to better accommodate people bicycling and walking are ready for implementation.
And these plans recognize that transportation isn’t one road or bus line or a single rail expansion — it’s a system, and the needs of that system vary depending on the location.
Whether in our metro cities, suburbs or Greater Minnesota communities, one constant is a lack of adequate funding to turn our good planning into a better transportation system that improves the lives of everyday Minnesotans.
As local elected officials, we hear daily about the shortcomings of our current system: potholes, degraded road surfaces, traffic delays (both chronic and unpredictable), the inability to get to a new job, unsafe conditions for drivers, walkers, bicyclists and those with disabilities.
Every local elected official can tell you exactly what’s at stake if the Minnesota Legislature stalls on transportation funding again this year. We can point to local roads and aging bridges urgently needing maintenance and preservation, buses filled to capacity, and businesses clamoring for new light rail or bus rapid transit lines to get built so they can attract and retain talented employees. We’ve seen millennials and baby boomers alike increasingly looking to live and work in places where owning a car is not a necessity. This observation is affirmed in recent commercial realty data on where millennials want to live — and that is where they have easy access to transit, the ability to use other nonmotorized systems like sidewalks and bike paths, and being close to amenities.
Unfortunately, transportation discussions at the state level have been stymied by larger debates about overall levels of spending and taxes, and by some legislators pitting the metro area vs. Greater Minnesota. As long as that is the central dialogue, the transportation needs of local communities will go unaddressed, regardless of geographic location, and our state and its residents will suffer the consequences of inaction.
We urge legislators to think about residents and businesses throughout the state and pass substantial, comprehensive, long-term funding for all modes of transportation. While transportation has been touted as a top priority, and both the House and Senate are in general agreement about the size of the problem, the gulf between funding approaches has resulted in little action: the House relying on general fund revenues, and the Senate relying heavily on increased transportation taxes (gas tax, metro sales tax).
A solution to these differing views is essential, because any further delays in addressing Minnesota’s transportation needs will only hold us back and raise the price tag of urgent projects in our communities and across the state.
With spring upon us, we recommend a gardener’s approach that relies on both annuals and perennials. We support prioritizing a portion of the state surplus for transportation, while at the same time increasing dedicated transportation taxes that can be counted on over the years ahead in order to plan, build and maintain transportation projects and systems that will make us competitive and safe.
An effective and efficient multimodal transportation system is critical not only to improving mobility but also to advancing local economies, providing access to opportunity, and enhancing quality of life in the metro and in Greater Minnesota alike. It’s time for smart investments in all modes. It’s time to get the job done.
Submitted by the following mayors: James Hovland, Edina; Elizabeth Kautz, Burnsville; Mike Maguire, Eagan; Sandy Martin, Shoreview; Terry Schneider, Minnetonka; Shep Harris, Golden Valley; Nora Slawik, Maplewood; Molly Cummings, Hopkins; Jo Emerson, White Bear Lake; Denny Laufenburger, Chanhassen; Nancy Tyra-Lukens, Eden Prairie; Bill Mars, Shakopee; George Tourville, Inver Grove Heights, and Janet Williams, Savage.