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Tuesday Talk: Not doing enough on transportation?

May 28, 2013 By Joe Sheeran, Communications Director

The Seattle bridge collapse recharged bad memories for Minnesotans. Five years after the I-35 tragedy, policymakers have specifically begun addressing Minnesota’s bridges, but the state’s transportation system on the whole is woefully underfunded. More than half the state's roads are past their 50-year life expectancy and more than 40 percent of bridges are over 40 years old, the state’s transportation commissioner recently told reporters.

In light of Minnesota policymakers recently passing what’s being called a “status quo” transportation bill, what more should we be doing to invest in 21st century infrastructure? 

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  • David Davison says:

    May 28, 2013 at 6:35 am

    The MN&S rail line has a narrow right of way that runs from Minneapolis to Northfield. It crosses the Southwest Light Rail tracks in Saint Louis Park, and it crosses the Minnesota River in Savage.

    The Minnesota Department of Transportation has a plan (, approved in 2010, to put heavy, fast trains on the MN&S line running between Minneapolis and Mankato, with no stops along the way. Use of the tracks for heavy, fast trains has seen opposition by persons living along the narrow right of way.

    Opposition was codified in the Dan Patch Gag Rule (2002, Regular Session, Chapter 393-HF3618).

    An alternative use of the tracks that would better serve commuters and communities is a light rail concept that would, as a minimum, link SW Light Rail on the north (at Wooddale Station) to Savage (crossing the river) on the south.

    Persons who daily spend hours on highway 169 commuting would have an alternative that does not over-use the road system.

    Persons who live along the tracks would also benefit by having local rail transit available. Furthermore, the hazard to homes along the narrow corridor from light rail is considerably less than that of heavy, fast trains.

  • Renae Dalen says:

    May 28, 2013 at 7:37 am

    Over the weekend, my daughter & son-in-law hit an unmarked pot hole while riding their motorcycle near Cloquet. Luckily they were only going 30 mph while trying to enter Hwy 35 to go to Duluth. Also they had on helmets, leathers & gloves.  Son-in-law broke both leg bones near his left ankle, & both have bumps & bruises. Could have been a lot worse. Need to allocate funding for road maintenance all over the state.

  • Mike Downing says:

    May 28, 2013 at 7:59 am

    This is a trick question.

    The answer is: Simply wait until until a normal “Bonding Year”, i.e the 2014 Session.

  • Herbert Davis says:

    May 28, 2013 at 8:33 am

    A joint venture with all of the tribes that have casinos….“Rainbow Rail”... a train that runs from every casino to every town with a hospital and public college.

    Tribes enjoy, folks with doctors appointments and college students can take classes wherever convenient…..might just be handy when we get to the point that rural schools have to merge to exist and poor folks need something better than a donkey cart to get to their medical appointments.

  • tony says:

    May 28, 2013 at 9:29 am

    The state has a study showing that the Dan Patch line if used as a lite-rail line would be the busiest in the system. But, there is a law on the books making it illegal to use as a light rail corridor. attempts have been made to repeal, but opposition is heavy from the inner ring suburban legislators…

  • Alice Hausman says:

    May 28, 2013 at 9:40 am

    The challenge will be equity, being fair to everyone.  The debate is about who pays and where the money goes.  If the solution is seen as balanced, fair to all, it has a greater chance of success.  But what is fair?  If it appears that some taxpayers are paying but not receiving their “fair share,” there will be resistance. And frankly, if there is insufficient revenue, it will be a false promise because projects won’t be completed anyway.  The need is so great.

    This morning’s newspaper celebrates the start of building the Stillwater Bridge.  It is more costly than any bridge we have built and it connects no major corridors of commerce.  But the most conservative voices argued for its construction.  We could have solved countless other safety and congestion problems if that money had been invested elsewhere.  But only progressive voices (the real fiscal conservatives) argued against spending money in that way.

  • David Davison says:

    May 28, 2013 at 2:20 pm

    Regarding Tony’s comment, the 2001 Dan Patch study was for heavy commuter rail on the MN&S tracks. No study has been made on light rail for the MN&S tracks. The Met Council has the charter for light rail but will not study the concept because of the Dan Patch Gag Rule, which specifically names the Dan Patch plan for heavy commuter rail. The DOT interpreted the law differently in planning intercity rail.

    Opposition is centered on legislator Ron Erhardt, who was one of the authors of the gag rule.

  • Bernice Vetsch says:

    May 28, 2013 at 3:59 pm

    I agree completely with Alice Hausman.  There was great opposition to building the larger bridge, but it didn’t seem to count. 

    Most supporters, as I recall, noted that the large bridge would require more workers. What they didn’t seem to recognize was that the $300 billion or so saved by building the smaller bridge could have been used to hire hundreds of workers and buying tons upon tons of concrete and other materials to restore some of the many roads and bridges around the state that are in disrepair.

    The legislature could start now with preparation of next year’s bonding bill and show as Item Number One “Statewide Repair (or Replacement if required) of all substandard roads and bridges.”

  • Kipling Thacker says:

    May 28, 2013 at 8:33 pm

    Maybe if we got people to focus on the real infrastructure needs of the state instead of building a Northstar rail line, talking of building a white elephant line from Minneapolis to Duluth, enacting a solar energy requirement for state utilities, which the rate payers pay,  requiring ethanol in gasoline, etc. we could make serious progress on infrastructure repair.  A little focus would go a long way in solving this problem.

    We will do that when we have legislative leadership that can live with not having their names associated with “big” projects and progressives that think and educate their neighbors and friends about cost benefit ratios as some tried to do with the Stillwater bridge (though as I remember the aesthetic/environmental argument against was the loudest).