Mayor Betsy Hodges told Twin Cities business leaders Wednesday morning that transit and transportation investments are crucial to attracting new residents.
She said that focusing on “livability factors” will help spur growth as young people increasingly choose the city they want to live in before choosing their next job. The mayor spoke alongside St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman at a joint breakfast of the St. Paul and Minneapolis chambers of commerce.
“One of the core pieces of that is ‘Do we have the kind of transit and transportation network that allows people to live without a car?’” said Hodges, who hopes to grow the city's population by more than 100,000 people.
Hodges and Coleman stressed the impact that the Green Line light rail – expected to open within months – will have on the area. Hodges said the rail network must be expanded, through both light rail and streetcars, partly to help spur neighborhood investment.
“It will show people even more clearly how easy it is to live in this region when you have the transit that you need,” Hodges said, adding that having a “true bus rapid transit network” is also important. She highlighted the planned BRT line connecting downtown to Burnsville via I-35W, known as the Orange Line. That plan also involves building a major new transit center on Lake Street.
Hodges added that walkability and bikeability are important factors, particularly surrounding transit lines.
“Because people need to be able to live there, they need to be able to walk to the bus and then make that train transfer very easily,” Hodges said. “They need to be able to bike to their job if they’re living in the city. We are on our way with all of that, and it’s crucial.”
The Legislature is expected to consider a metro-wide sales tax for transit again this year, which Hodges said she supports.
Dave Sonnenberg, with the Minnesota City Engineers Association, noted that transit funding often accompanies more road funding at the Legislature. “And we all know how unpopular it is to raise taxes, no matter what the season,” Sonnenberg said. “But this is an election season.” He asked how the cities can convince the Legislature to support more transportation funding this session.
Hodges responded that Minneapolis has representatives, Sen. Scott Dibble and Rep. Frank Hornstein, in chairing key leadership positions. She added that during her work with the League of Minnesota Cities, she has learned a key lesson:
“We get to make the case for how important the metro region is,” Hodges said. “But if we do that while simultaneously making the case that we understand how important greater Minnesota is, we get a lot further.”
In addition to transportation, Hodges harkened back to her campaign theme of eliminating racial gaps as another key step to grow the region.
"In terms of our future as a city and our ability to provide the workforce that our businesses are going to need into the future, we're going to need every kid in the city of Minneapolis, every kid in the region, educated and trained for the jobs of the future," Hodges said.
She said that she has closely watched initiatives in St. Paul to improve student acheivement "so that we can follow some of the successes St. Paul has had." She said she has also seen successes in San Antonio, Texas that may be replicable in Minneapolis.