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Minnesota’s Economic Recovery Now in Hands of Governor, DOT, and Metropolitan Council

02/18/2009

Transit for Livable Communities Urges State Officials to Focus on “Fix it First” and Transit Projects

For immediate release
February 17, 2009

Contact: Katie Eukel
651-767-0298 x115
KatieE@tlcminnesota.org

[SAINT PAUL, MN] — As President Obama signed into law the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, Transit for Livable Communities called on Governor Pawlenty, state DOT Commissioner Tom Sorel, and Metropolitan Council Chair Peter Bell to ensure that the transportation portion revitalizes Minnesota’s economy, focusing on job creation by rebuilding our crumbling infrastructure and investing in much needed public transit.

During Wednesday’s town hall meeting in Ft. Myers, FL President Obama took an unequivocal stand in favor of a 21st Century transportation system including “energy efficient” investments such as “high speed rail” and “public transit.” Said President Obama: “Even when you’re in the middle of crisis, you’ve got to keep your eye on the future…The days where we’re just building sprawl forever, those days are over.”

“These funds offer state and local officials an unprecedented opportunity to create jobs that will build even stronger communities in Minnesota,” stated Lea Schuster, Executive Director of Transit for Livable Communities. “We’re calling on Governor Pawlenty, state DOT Commissioner Tom Sorel, and Metropolitan Council Chair Peter Bell to heed President Obama’s vision for change and urging them to spend these investments wisely.”

The bill signed today includes about $46 billion for transportation, including roughly $598 million for transit, roads, and bicycle and pedestrian investments in Minnesota (state shares of intercity and high speed rail funding in the new law have yet to be determined). Minnesota will receive the funds through programs that allow states broad discretion. “At this point, it is up to us to use this money to make our communities stronger,” noted Schuster. Some of the helpful features of the legislation are listed below. 

  • $27.5 billion is allocated to the Surface Transportation Program (STP) that, as its name states, can be spent on the state’s most pressing surface transportation needs. Minnesota’s $500 million in STP funds will help restore our transportation networks to a state of good repair if state and local officials give priority to fix-it-first rather than expanded highways.
  • Flexibility built into STP funds allows Minnesota to invest in transit, road, rail, and bicycle and pedestrian projects that reduce oil dependence, traffic congestion, and vulnerability to gas price hikes.
  • Just under 30 percent of STP funds will be directed (“suballocated”) to metropolitan decision makers, who will have the flexibility to use the money to meet the diverse transportation needs of their constituents while helping to foster the clean energy economy envisioned by the President. 
  • A substantial percentage of funding is explicitly dedicated to public transportation, to help meet growing demand. Minnesota’s share of the $8.4 billion will be nearly $95 million.

Transit for Livable Communities recognized that Congress provided no criteria to ensure that STP funds are prioritized towards fixing Minnesota’s crumbling infrastructure and expanding public transit and bicycle and pedestrian routes. As a result, decisions about the kinds of jobs to create and projects to fund with federal stimulus funds are in the hands of state and local officials. Transit for Livable Communities urged these officials to use that flexibility to create the jobs that will both repair the system we have, and build a transportation system in Minnesota that meets the needs of an energy-efficient 21st Century economy.

“Not all stimulus jobs are created equal,” stated Schuster. “State and local officials need to choose the projects that not only stimulate the economy now, but also fix our infrastructure, reduce our reliance on oil, and build a robust economy for decades to come.”

Beneficial projects would repair existing roads and bridges, retrofit streets to make them safer for all users, improve transit service, or add facilities for walking and bicycling. The current spending proposal under consideration in the Twin Cities metropolitan area is dominated by two major highway expansion projects.

“We must seize this moment, rebuild Minnesota for our children and grandchildren, and put our communities on a clean-energy, high-speed track to the future,” added Schuster.

# # #

Transit for Livable Communities is a nonpartisan, non-profit organization working to reform Minnesota’s transportation system. Through advocacy, organizing, and research, Transit for Livable Communities promotes a balanced transportation system that encourages transit, walking, biking, and transit-oriented development.

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