Minnesota’s roads are falling apart and our transit systems are falling behind. Now it’s time for state lawmakers to greenlight new revenue for better transportation.
Transportation means opportunity for all, no matter who you are or where you live. People need safer roads and better transit to get to work and school. Employers need world-class buses and trains to attract the best employees. Our elders need a ride to live independently. Our families need better bicycle and pedestrian routes that connect them to their schools, jobs and recreation. Our farmers need sturdy bridges to get their produce to market. Our businesses require highways to quickly move their goods.
Everyone has a stake in transportation. Together, we must move past the divisive debates that pit rural against urban and roads against rail. We’re all in this together as One Minnesota.
With delay, the cost increases
Minnesota has only 60 percent of what it needs for roads, bridges and transit. Each year we delay our urgent transportation needs, the cost to taxpayers increases.
From Mankato to Minneapolis to Moorhead, Minnesotans are demanding action. They expect the Legislature to invest in transportation to keep their communities safe and their economies thriving. As Gov. Tim Walz explains, “This isn’t a choice between a gas tax and no gas tax. It’s about living in a state with safe, reliable transportation or one with crumbling roads and bridges that risk our safety and keep away businesses.”
Walz campaigned successfully on raising the gas tax to fix roads and bridges. The increase – which would occur in 5-cent increments in April and October of 2020 and 2021 – would cost the average driver between $185 and $298 per year. For comparison, the current condition of the state’s roads cost the average Minnesotan more than $1,000 per year in car repairs, gas costs and lost time while stuck in congestion.
A separate Walz proposal to enrich the Working Family Tax Credit would ease the burden of a higher gas tax on lower-income people. The infusion of gas tax revenue would also ease property taxes, with 40 percent of proceeds going to cities and counties, which are forced to pay a larger share of road fixes.
Strong support for transit statewide
A statewide poll by the Minneapolis Chamber found strong support for transit. Almost six in 10 Minnesota voters are willing to pay higher taxes or user fees to support more spending on transit.
Walz listened to public opinion and proposed a bold investment in buses. Over the next 10 years, his transit package would allow Metro Transit to build out 10 bus rapid transit lines that expand access to 500,000 jobs; invest in regional bus service to grow ridership by 40 percent (this includes investments for suburban transit providers); accelerate Metro Transit’s progress toward clean energy by adding 220 electric buses; and improve the transit customer experience through safety, shelters and technology.
Walz said it best: “There’s no reason Minnesotans can’t have nice things.” We deserve a Minnesota where the air is clean, families are healthy, and people are connected.
Over the next 10 years, the governor’s package would raise $1.5 billion for nice buses. The proposal would add a 1/8-cent sales tax in the seven-county metro area to raise $770 million for regional bus service. It would increase the Motor Vehicle Sales Tax from 6.5 percent to 6.875 percent to generate $205 million. It also includes $230 million in state bonding to add a new bus rapid transit (BRT) line each year for 10 years. BRT offers service every 10 minutes with enhanced stations and signal priority for a quick and comfortable ride.
The proposal also creates a separate funding stream for Metro Mobility that would provide $240 million over 10 years to operate vital paratransit service for persons with disabilities.
The package is complemented by continued financial support from county transit sales tax collections for light rail and modern streetcars.
316,000 transit trips on weekdays
Every weekday, people in the Twin Cities region take 316,000 transit trips. Our growing region will add 700,000 residents in the next 20 years. That’s like moving the entire state of North Dakota to the Twin Cities! To keep up with growth, we need more and better transit service.
Walz’s transportation package is comprehensive for transit, roads and bridges. It fairly balances the needs of Greater Minnesota and the metro. It’s a long-term solution with funding dedicated to transportation. It wisely ends transportation’s drain on the general fund when those dollars are desperately needed for education and health care.
Please urge your state legislators to support the governor’s transportation budget. It’s HF 2403, sponsored by Rep. Frank Hornstein, DFL-Minneapolis, and SF 2360 sponsored by Sen. Scott Dibble, DFL-Minneapolis.
Our cherished quality of life and Minnesota’s economic vitality depend on safe roads and bridges, and easy access to public transit in communities where people can bike and walk.
Jennifer Munt served on the Metropolitan Council for 8 years during the Dayton administration.
WANT TO ADD YOUR VOICE?
If you’re interested in joining the discussion, add your voice to the Comment section below — or consider writing a letter or a longer-form Community Voices commentary. (For more information about Community Voices, see our Submission Guidelines.)