Marcus Smith would like more reliable bus service from south Minneapolis to his job in St. Paul. Jessica Treat wants dedicated lanes that make bicycling to work safer. James Boney hopes rebuilding and repairing the state’s roads and bridges will mean jobs for workers who need them.
From bicyclists to Building Trades members, public employees to people of faith, more than 300 people brought their concerns and priorities to the Capitol April 16, but they stood shoulder-to-shoulder behind the Move MN coalition’s push for a comprehensive, long-term transportation plan.
Unions took a leading role in the rally. Minnesota AFL-CIO President Shar Knutson acknowledged the transit workers, road maintenance workers and highway construction workers in the crowd.
“Ask them, and I bet they’ll tell you our transportation system is falling apart,” she said.
More than half of Minnesota’s roads are 50-plus years old, and 40 percent of the state’s bridges are 40-plus years old. The number of roads in poor condition will grow by 74 percent over the next 10 years, as freight traffic statewide is expected to increase by 30 percent.
Gov. Mark Dayton has offered an $11 billion plan to repair state highways, fund local transportation investments and support public transit across Minnesota.
Supporters at the rally said the plan would ease congestion, allow for economic and population growth, and create new jobs – 119,000 of them, according to the governor’s estimates.
Boney, an instructor at Summit Academy OIC, attended the rally with about two dozen participants in the North Minneapolis-based career training program. Wearing safety-yellow vests and hard hats, the trainees, Boney said, will graduate from the program this weekend – and enter the workforce next week.
“This transportation bill could provide more work for students when they graduate, when they go out into the world,” Boney said.
“The best social program in the world is a job,” Summit Academy President Louis J. King II added.
Not only do transportation investments create jobs, but they help people get to and from their jobs, whether by car, bus, bicycle or on foot.
Smith, an AFSCME member who commutes to his job near the Capitol, is among those people. He said the buses he relies on to get to work too often run late.
“We need more buses because they’re congested,” Smith said. “The more crowded the buses are, the slower the process is. Sometimes they’re running 20 or 25 minutes late because it’s so congested.”
Treat, executive director of Women on Bikes, said research shows women are less likely to commute by bicycle – but not for lack of interest.
“They tell us we want to ride our bikes more, but we don’t feel safe,” she said. Treat urged investments in dedicated bike lanes and paths, noting $1.3 billion worth of bicycle plans in need of funding statewide.
Lawmakers at the rally, including Dayton, House Minority Leader Paul Thissen and Sen. Scott Dibble, warned against attempts to pit greater Minnesota against the Twin Cities, transit needs against road and bridge maintenance or transportation against other budget items.
The only acceptable approach, they said, is a comprehensive, long-term approach.
Thissen said any transportation bill passed by the Legislature should be “the real deal,” and he railed against a House Republican plan to take “money from education and health care to pay for transportation.”
“This is all about our kids and it’s about our grandkids, and it’s about doing what’s best for Minnesota,” Dayton said. “For 25 years we’ve avoided this, and look where we are now. Look at the congestion, look at the deterioration, look at how far behind our public transportation system is.”