Legislature ought to act on transportationPublished 9:53am Wednesday, April 23, 2014
Guest Column by Tom Kuntz
As legislators return from spring recess, they have less than four weeks to finish their work for the year.
That’s four weeks to make meaningful progress on transportation funding. Four weeks to give hope to communities along major forgotten highways, including U.S. Highway 14, that they’ll be included in the Corridors of Commerce program. That’s four weeks to help Greater Minnesota communities become more livable and their streets safer.
While transportation funding used to be a bipartisan issue, it has become a political hot potato that no one wants to touch. Outside of the Capitol, transportation is a bipartisan issue. Actually, it’s a nonpartisan issue. Mayors, county commissioners, regional chambers of commerce and local businesses understand that our transportation system pumps the lifeblood into our economy.
That’s why it is crucial that the Minnesota Legislature pass a comprehensive transportation funding package that provides long-term, sustainable funding for roads, bridges, public transit and bike and walk connections.
In southeastern Minnesota, when one regional center succeeds, we all succeed. We are not an island in the state. We are a vital hub of commerce.
For years, we have been promised funding to fully and safely connect our region yet still today, our farmers and businesses travel on dangerous highways that limit our economic growth. We can’t afford to ignore the positive economic benefits of efficient and safe transportation infrastructure necessary for new and expanding businesses.
We also need reliable transportation options that serve our expanding communities. According to recent projections by the state demographer, a vast majority of counties in southeastern Minnesota are projected to have significant population growth in the next 30 years.
In fact, Dodge, Steele and Olmsted counties are among the top 10 fastest growing counties in the state. The region is already facing challenges in its transportation systems. This projected population growth puts additional stress on too many of our roads that have surpassed their intended lifespan.
But it’s not just about roads. Greater Minnesota needs broad transportation investment to attract businesses, retain talent and remain desirable places to live and work.
As our population ages, a comprehensive regional transit service becomes even more important. Bike and walk connections provide a transportation alternative and provide an economic boost. But local governments can’t do it alone.
Communities across the state need the Legislature to make transportation a priority. There is still time to make an investment in long-term, sustainable funding for all modes of transportation. Together we can do big things that keep Minnesota economically competitive.
Tom Kuntz is the mayor of Owatonna.