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MnDOT metro plan will benefit outstate

The following is an editorial from the Mankato Free Press.

A significant change in planning for metro freeway expansion has angered suburban officials who have long lived by the maxim if they build suburbs, the state must build roads to serve those suburbs no matter what the cost.

But a plan developed by MnDOT and the Metropolitan Council puts a damper on the spend it and they will come mantra. It’s a refreshing change of philosophy to efficiently manage metro congestion without the blunt stick of highway construction at exorbitant costs.

MnDOT and the Metropolitan Council instead propose creating more managed lanes on most if not all of the highways in the metro area. These are the left-hand faster lanes that are open to carpools, buses and those who wish to purchase an electronic MnPASS to traverse them. They’ve been used with success on Interstate 394 and more recently on Interstate 35W south toward Burnsville.

These are not toll roads. They are faster lanes that motorists can choose to pay for. And they are proven congestion busters.

The cost of building the suburban expansions is simply something the state cannot afford. Mega projects have been on the books or are on the books, but given the current funding, aren’t realistically going to get done anytime soon.

And there are other road funding needs outside the metro area. A Free Press investigation published in September showed numerous outstate highways with safety and crash records far above state averages. These outstate highways are key to commerce, to getting Minnesota’s billions of dollars in farm commodities to market.

MnDOT officials rightly note that there is just not enough funding for suburban expansions when the preservation of existing roads and maintenance of bridges have fallen far behind even MnDOT’s own goals. A Legislative Auditor’s report recently cited MnDOT for its poor track record in keeping up with preservation of existing road surfaces.

Transit must also be a priority. Light rail and bus service have been successful. Those options can be expanded with the managed lane programs.

All in all, the change of emphasis by MnDOT and the Met Council is long overdue. It will help put Minnesota and the metro area in a competitive position with other metro areas that long ago adopted transit and traffic management policies.

Economic development will follow when we have an efficient transportation system that doesn’t make commercial traffic wait to do business on a congested highway wasting expensive fuel.

Editorial reprinted with permission of the Mankato Free Press.

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