Few would disagree that Minnesota’s transportation system is in tough shape, but it’s not just roads and bridges that are ailing.
The public transit system needs some tender loving care, too, says a group of legislators making its case at the State Capitol.
Last week, about 25 legislators took the Roll With Us transit challenge issued by a number of local advocacy groups that support funding for public transportation. The goal was to give legislators a taste of what it’s like to get to work, school, meetings and other places by bus and train.
Rep. Mike Freiberg, DFL-Golden Valley, who is not a frequent transit user, took the challenge and found that it can be difficult to get from suburb to suburb.
Rep. Melissa Hortman, DFL-Brooklyn Park, arranged for a ride home if committee meetings at the Capitol went too late and she could not get a bus back to the Noble Avenue N. park-and-ride.
Bus riders across the metro share the same frustrations and concerns, because many routes don’t run during the middle of the day, late into the evening or on weekends.
“People take transit more when there is a frequency of service they can count on,” Hortman said while taking a 768 express bus from Brooklyn Park to downtown Minneapolis before catching a Green Line train to the Capitol. “The Northstar is an example of when you have low frequency. It’s harder to build demand.”
Gov. Mark Dayton is asking for $6 billion over 10 years to improve the state’s transportation system. Part of that would come from a half-cent sales tax increase in the metropolitan area to cover $2.8 billion in transit upgrades, including buses that run more frequently and serve a larger area, both in the metro and in outstate Minnesota.
Yes, the car remains king, and plenty of money is needed to repair crumbling roads, fill potholes and increase capacity on congested routes to keep commuters moving.
This summer, MnDOT will begin a major makeover of Hwy. 100 in St. Louis Park, adding a lane on I-494 in the northwest suburbs and repaving I-394 between Hwy. 100 and downtown Minneapolis.
Making the push at the Capitol
Fixing highways is only part of the solution, according to Freiberg and Hortman, both of whom took the transit challenge and face the daunting task of convincing fellow legislators why transit needs its share of the funding pie.
“We have a silver tsunami coming that is real, and there will be fewer people driving each year, or fewer who should be driving,” Hortman said. “We need a mode of transit that works for everybody, and it needs to be a mode of transit that is equally valued and funded in the state as roads.”
Sen. David Senjem, R-Rochester, who also took the transit challenge, sees the value in transit. He said he didn’t initially support the $957 million Green Line but now sees it as an attractive option to get from the Capitol to the University of Minnesota or downtown Minneapolis. “I tend to look that way first,” he said.
Commuters might want to give transit a second look. Remember 2008 when gas prices soared over $4 per gallon? Scores of commuters left their vehicles idle and used public transit.
“I hope we don’t see high gas prices in the Twin Cities, but if we do, economics will drive people to transit,” Senjem said.