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Here’s hoping… for a transportation epiphany

John Adams, a University of Minnesota professor, often tells the story of parishioners at his church who instinctively rejected the idea of repairing and expanding their building. Only when reminded that past generations had sacrificed to rebuild and renew the structure that they, the current members, now enjoyed, did they reconsider their position. It was an epiphany that now it was their turn to provide for those who will come after them, Adams says. (He sometimes adds a cranky commentary on the self-centeredness of current economic and social thinking.)

My holiday wish for 2008 is that certain members of the Legislature will have a similar epiphany on the matter of transportation. Minnesota’s system is quite literally falling apart. Repairs have been postponed (with tragic consequences) and new capacity has failed to keep up with growing demand, especially in the metropolitan area.

Now it’s our turn to reinvest in the system that past generations provided for us. This is not sexy stuff. The word infrastructure is off-putting and, until recently, we’ve taken for granted our ability to drive as cheaply and as often as we want, treating driving almost as a fundamental American right. But those days are ending. New global realities — climate change and energy insecurity — are exposing the true costs of our travel habits — costs to our environment, to our foreign policy, and to our time wasted in traffic jams. We need a better way.

That means taking better care of the roads we have, adding a few more, building a real transit system that offers real choice, and offering the option of new community designs that minimize the need to drive. A handful of legislators are still in denial about all of that. Unless they have an epiphany, the governor’s veto will be sustained a third time, a worthy transportation bill that includes the tax increases required to move ahead will fall again, and Minnesota will be less than it might have been.

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