When Governor Dayton unveiled his $1.4 billion bonding proposal last week, he wisely focused on jobs and investing in Minnesota’s infrastructure – both maintaining what we have, as well as investing strategically in projects to strengthen our state in the future. This plan will create close to 40,000 jobs in the short term, and it will lead to strong economic development and jobs in the future.
However, the Governor’s bonding proposal leaves a few questions, most notably why there was no funding for transit, and very little for major highway projects. The reason? Gov. Dayton stated that costly transit and roadwork repairs should be paid for through a comprehensive transportation funding package. While I am open to additional bonding for transportation projects, I couldn’t agree more with the Governor’s long-term vision for transportation in Minnesota.
Washington County is requesting $3 million to continue studying and planning for the Gateway BRT Gold Line project. While I am disappointed that Gateway was not included in the Governor’s proposal, I believe it sends an important message to legislators that we need a meaningful solution this session to provide for sufficient and sustainable transportation funding. There was great hope that the 2015 session would see a compromise proposal, but negotiations stalled and ultimately failed, leaving us a status quo, “lights-on” bill. This was unfortunate because our counties and cities are struggling to take care of our roads, and we all know that neglecting our roadways doesn’t make the problem go away, it only makes the repairs get more expensive.
Additionally, not providing funds for expanding transit in the metro is a tremendous missed opportunity. We know that the metro and suburbs continue to grow at a fast pace, resulting in more cars on the roadway and more wear and tear. The east metro currently has 300,000 people living along I-94 east of St. Paul. That number is expected to grow by 90,000 people by the year 2030, and jobs in this corridor are expected to grow by 70 percent in the same timeframe. These are figures we can’t ignore. Planning now is critical to preparing for this reality. Transit is a smart addition to our transportation system for many reasons, including cost-effective congestion relief over time, economic development, attracting employers and workforce, and helping our environment.
Smart planning and investment is needed in the east metro and statewide. The state of Minnesota must prepare for growth and address our aging transportation infrastructure system in order to remain competitive in our global economy. Last week, Governor Dayton outlined the fact that clean water infrastructure will need consistent funding over the next two decades, as will transportation. In order to properly fund these repair projects and new transit options to accommodate the metro’s growth, we need to look further than the next election and make the responsible, hard choices to properly care for our infrastructure.
The time is now to step up to our responsibility to future generations in maintaining and building our transportation infrastructure in Minnesota. I remain hopeful that a compromise solution can be found, and I am committed to working hard to deliver this critical asset for our future.
This column was originally published in the Woodbury Bulletin.