Do-Nothing Governor Overruled on Transportation Bill
This past week has been a historic week for people who leave their houses on a regular basis in Minnesota. This week, Governor Tim Pawlenty's often overused veto power was overruled by state legislators. This is a major win for the state, as Gov. Pawlenty has consistently vetoed every transportation bill to pass his desk in the last six years as well as worked to cut transportation funding in favor of balancing the state budget without raising taxes. (Some politicians who have not supported Pawlenty's transportation plans even blamed the governor's policies on the collapse of the I-35W bridge this past fall.)
The transportation bill will raise the state gas tax 5.5 cents per gallon. This is the first gas tax increase in 20 years, and will generate billions of dollars for transportation-related projects, of course mostly roads and bridges. Also, the seven-county Metro Area will add a quarter-percent sales tax that will raise approximately $1.1 billion over the next 10 years for public transportation projects such as light rail, improving bus service, and providing more options for bicyclists and pedestrians.
Under Pawlenty's terms as governor, I've seen transportation, especially public transportation, suffer. When I started using the buses about 6 or 7 years ago, the buses ran more often and many routes ran all night. But since then, almost no buses run after 1 am (thus negating the idea of using the bus after the bar) and only a handful of routes run more often than every 20 to 30 minutes. The Metropolitan Council has often been blamed for putting too much money into light rail at the expense of bus service, but the truth is that the Met Council was doing what they could with the limited finances they've been given.
I, for one, am very excited about the potential for this extra funding. There's no doubt that our roads and bridges can use the funding, unless we want to to turn more of our roads into private toll roads or something. Also, I'm excited about the potential for improvements in other forms of transportation such as buses and light rail, which have been sorely underfunded in the past couple years. Like I said in an opinion letter in a local newspaper, we need to promote mass transit and make it a robust system, otherwise no one will use it. I still think that is true after three years, and I am glad that the state legislators are willing to fight for it.
In other Twin Cities transportation news, MetroTransit recently updated their Trip Planner to have a better user interface and maps of the locations (although it should be using Google Maps). Also, I will be posting more on the current plans for the Central Corridor Light Rail in the next week and how it is progressing, so stay tuned.