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A scorecard for the 2012 legislative session

05/22/2012

from Dave Van Hattum, Senior Policy Advocate

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When the 2012 legislative session opened on January 24, Transit for Livable Communities had four objectives on our agenda (pdf).

  1. Maintain Current Operating Funding for Public Transit Statewide
  2. Capital Bonding for Transit Investments
  3. Enable Financing for Transit Oriented Development
  4. Increase Funding for Bicycle and Pedestrian Access

When the gavel marked close of session on May 11, the scorecard was mixed but the big transit story was that Southwest light rail transit was not in the bonding bill. The goal of securing $25 million for the next light rail line in the Twin Cities regional transit system was not achieved.

This is a serious setback. It results from a Republican caucus position that is against light rail and allegedly supportive of expanded bus service. During the session, a wide array of voices marshaled in support of Southwest light rail transit.

  • Governor Dayton included the project in his bonding proposal.

  • The business community (including Minneapolis Regional, Twin West, Saint Paul, Edina, and Eden Prairie Chambers of Commerce, but notably not the Minnesota Chamber) repeatedly argued that funding for transit in the busy southwest corridor is essential to retain current employers and attract new jobs. For example, read this op-ed in the Pioneer Press.

  • All of the communities along the line support the investment. People from across the metro area wrote letters to the editor telling why transit options matter to them. See letters here and here. A statewide poll showed that residents across the state support the line.

  • The Met Council, Metro Transit, and the Counties Transit Improvement Board (CTIB) helped educate legislators and gain positive media coverage of the project. See this Star Tribune editorial. 

  • Transit for Livable Communities and the Transit Partners coalition rallied support from members, launching an online campaign and delivering more than 1,000 petitions to the Governor and legislative leadership.

  • Senator Latz and Senator Bonoff and Representative Hornstein gave inspiring floor speeches supporting the Southwest LRT line.

But the line was left out of the bonding bill.

Southwest LRT planners will apply for funding through the Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) “Business Development through Capital Projects Grant Program” that was included in the bonding bill. The Southwest line will compete with many other projects for a slice of this $47.5 million fund.

In the short term, political leaders advancing the Southwest LRT line are committed to finding the money (through local sources) to keep the project moving through the preliminary engineering phase. But GO bonding will be needed to keep the Southwest LRT on schedule to start construction in 2014 and open in 2018. The state share of this project is 10%, or $125 million. Each $1 in state funds leverages $9 from local and federal sources. See a virtual tour of the line in this article.

As all the voices arrayed in support of the line made clear, this investment is crucial to future economic growth in the region. It also will create construction jobs and, when open, will give residents across the metro the option of saving money (and polluting less) by using transit. Transit for Livable Communities with our members and allies will keep fighting.

The 2012 legislative scorecard has some wins.

Transit fared better in two other areas—defeating a proposed transit fare increase and securing limited funding for transit in the bonding bill. Transit advocates successfully battled against a proposed 25 cent fare increase, arguing that it makes no sense to increase fares when demand for transit is growing. The measure was pulled from the transportation policy bill.

The capital bonding bill included $2.5 million for the Minneapolis Interchange, an expansion of the transit hub at Target Field which will serve increased ridership expected when the Central Corridor opens in 2014 and when the Southwest LRT opens in 2018. The bonding bill also included $6.4 million for transit facilities in greater Minnesota. These all were in our 2012 legislative agenda.

TOD remains to be seen

No bills were heard to enable financing and accelerate transit-oriented-development (TOD), one of our goals for the session. Given the focus on the bonding bill and Vikings stadium, this was not a surprise. With the Central Corridor LRT coming on soon, and critical station area planning underway for the Southwest LRT, local and regional conversations continue regarding ways to leverage more and better TOD. We anticipate future legislative efforts to advance “value capture” and other innovative financial strategies for transit oriented development. Robust TOD boosts the value of transit investments by making sure housing, jobs, and commerce efficiently connect to the transit line.

A bicycle and pedestrian policy win but no funding

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TLC was part of a coalition seeking the creation of a State of Minnesota Safe Routes to School program (to complement the federally-funded program) and funding in the bonding bill. The coalition was successful in the former but not the latter. It was encouraging to see a high level of bipartisan support for the Safe Routes to School initiative, including very persuasive testimony from Apple Valley High School Principal Gary Anger and two Mounds View High School students (Patrick Sullivan and Samantha Kaslow). Hopefully, the foundation was laid for future success in the House and Senate Capital Investment committees, which oversee bonding legislation. It is often the case that projects seeking GO bonding need to build their case and coalition of supporters over multiple legislative sessions.

Building the coalition

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TLC is committed to building a broader and more vocal coalition for increased transit options, including the Southwest light rail line. Through our online petition campaign and Facebook page, we will continue to collect signatures and build public support for policy goals through the 2013 legislative session. We urge you to sign on and to inspire your friends, neighbors, family and colleagues to do the same.

The 2012 legislative session clearly showed the importance of legislative support for transit investments. TLC urges transit advocates to talk with candidates for the House and Senate about their stance on transportation issues. Stay tuned for more details on questions for candidates, how and where to get their attention, and how to make transit, bicycling and walking more visible priorities for your community.

Construction season—how projects get the green light

From Barb Thoman, executive director

  CentralCorridorConstruction

With the warmer weather, road construction signs are popping up around the metro and across the state. Construction of the Central Corridor light rail line also resumed this spring. These signs remind me of the big difference in the way roads and transit are paid for in Minnesota.

Funding for expansion of our region’s transit system pales in comparison to the amount available to expand our region’s highways—and the results are obvious on the ground. Our regional transit system is of modest size (especially when compared with competing regions, such as Denver, Toronto, Boston, and Seattle), while the Twin Cities’ regional highway system is one of the nation’s largest on a per capita basis.

New highway projects generally don’t require legislative vote but many transit projects, such as Southwest light rail, wait for legislative approval

Minnesota’s constitution dedicates gasoline taxes, license tab fees, and 60% of the motor vehicle sales tax to state and local roads and bridges, with 62% of this revenue going to MnDOT. An additional $500 million annually, on average, flows from the federal government to roads and bridges. (Local property taxes add roughly $1 billion each year for roads and bridges.)

MnDOT’s dedicated funding allows for a vast number of road projects: 316 in the 2011 construction season. In the Metro area, the projects include:

  • needed pavement repair on I-94
  • a welcome new bridge over I-35E at Maryland Avenue and work on replacement of the Layafette and Hastings bridges over the Mississippi River.
  • expansion of the TH169/I-494 interchange, new interchanges in Savage and Arden Hills, and early work on a new St. Croix River crossing.

For a full list of 2012 metro area highway projects click here (pdf). Because Minnesota has significant dedicated funding for highway maintenance and expansion, the legislature did not have to vote to approve these projects or the funding for them. 

State funding for transit is more precarious, affecting bus and rail

Funding for transit is much more precarious than funding for roads and bridges because transit relies to a significant degree on state general fund appropriations and General Obligation bonding – funding that needs to be allocated by the legislature each year. Last year, the legislature cut the two-year general fund allocation to metro transit by $51.8 million.

This year, despite the Governor’s support, the final bonding bill did not include $25 million to support construction of the Southwest light rail transit line. The bonding bill did include $2.5 million for “The Interchange,” a downtown Minneapolis transit hub and $6.4 million for transit facilities in greater Minnesota.

Statewide, transit receives 40% of the motor vehicle sales tax. In five metro area counties, a 1/4-cent sales tax generates about $95 million annually toward the cost of new light rail, commuter rail and bus rapid transit lines—such as the Central Corridor, Southwest light rail, and the Gateway and Bottineau corridors. As noted, last year the state legislature cut general fund money for bus service, so some of this regional tax revenue was diverted to fill in the gap, preventing a 30% cut in bus service, but slowing down progress on new transit development.

Minnesota-transportation-funding-chart


Making the case for transit

Transit for Livable Communities will continue making the case for expanded transportation options. There is still a lot of work to be done if the region wants to build more than one light rail project each decade and if we want a bus system that serves more of our residents.

Why is this important? Because people spend more on transportation (getting to work, school, and other appointments) than on any other household expense other than housing. Providing transportation options—bus, rail, bicycling, and walking—makes it possible to trim this expense and helps families make ends meet. There also are significant health and environmental benefits when a region has a greater reliance on transit, walking, and bicycling.  

To show your support for Southwest LRT the next light rail line for the region, click here.

For a summary of transit funding in Minnesota, click here (pdf).

 

 

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