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Met Council’s Susan Haigh makes pitch for transit funding

The Metropolitan Council chairwoman says the council will pursue state funding that will enable further expansion of the regional transit system.

Metropolitan Council chair Susan Haigh making her pitch for transit funding during her State of the Region address at Target Field.
Photo by Jeff Syme
Metropolitan Council Chair Susan Haigh

Metropolitan Council Chair Susan Haigh said Wednesday that the council will pursue state funding solutions that will enable further expansion of the regional transit system and resolve problems that leave “our major transitway projects in limbo, costing us time and money.”

In her first State of the Region addressHaigh urged legislative approval of $25 million in state bonding to help fund the proposed 15-mile Southwest Corridor light-rail transit (LRT) line between downtown Minneapolis and Eden Prairie.

New transportation option
 Among some 100 transit projects around the nation, Haigh noted, Southwest is one of just a dozen that has received approval from the Federal Transit Administration to begin preliminary engineering. “Southwest light rail will provide a new transportation option for the existing 210,000 employees who work in the corridor, and it is already attracting new jobs and private investment,” she said.

However, Haigh added that the state needs to fix the current “ad hoc system” of transit funding, which relies heavily on limited resources of local governments and the vagaries of the legislative process. 

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Last week, DFL Gov. Mark Dayton created a transportation finance advisory committee — on which Haigh will serve — “to help us find new, innovative ways to finance improving our transportation systems.” Dayton directed the group to provide written recommendations by Dec. 31

“Our vision is to work together to continue to build a 21st century regional transit system with expanding regional services that connect people to and from work, school and home, and to work together to strategically support economic development along transitways that will produce robust local economies and grow jobs,” Haigh said.

Both the bonding request and any longer-term funding proposals could face tough going in the current, Republican-controlled Legislature, which has not been sympathetic to the needs of transit.

Shifts in emphasis
In her speech, delivered to a crowd of about 250 people in the Legends Club at Target Field, Haigh also signaled some shifts in emphasis by the Dayton-appointed Met Council from the course pursued during Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s administration. Haigh said the council will:

  • Channel more public resources to leverage higher density, transit-supportive development along the region’s LRT, bus rapid transit and commuter rail lines. She said the council has now set aside $32 million for this purpose, using grants to local communities that have been relinquished during the current economic downturn.
  • Develop a regional housing policy plan for the first time in decades “to give communities the tools and support they need to build strong, healthy neighborhoods and to meet the needs of changing demographics.” Under Pawlenty, the council generally shied away from issues unless they were specifically assigned by state law.
  • Help communities plan for slower regional growth and rapid demographic changes. “As interesting as how many people will live in our region is who will live in our region,” she said. “We will have smaller households in some neighborhoods, more seniors in all communities, and by 2040, 45 percent of the people who live in this region will likely be people of color.”

Haigh said she chose Target Field as the venue to make her first regional pitch “because it reminds us that, just like building Target Field, the work we’re talking about today is not easy and it often requires bold leadership that cuts against the grain.”

Target Field also sits adjacent to a transit station that serves the Hiawatha LRT line, the Northstar commuter rail line and the Central Corridor LRT line, which is scheduled for completion in 2014. If it wins federal and state funding, the Southwest  Corridor LRT line will be essentially an extension of Central. The council’s current timetable calls for the completion of Southwest by 2018.