Twin Cities Regional Highway System and Transit Investment

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From Barb Thoman,  Acting Executive Director, Transit for Livable Communities

The Twin Cities regional highway system continues to expand – it grew another 1 percent between 2000 and 2008 and is the 8th largest of the 25 most populous regions. When we look at lane miles per person, our highway system is 30 percent larger than Los Angeles and 30 percent larger than Portland, Ore.

What does this mean? It means we have more to maintain – both pavement and bridges. This winter alone made it pretty obvious to drivers that we are not keeping up on the maintenance side of things.

It also means that we are not investing enough in public transit. Most of the federal transportation money Minnesota receives can be used for any mode of transportation. While Portland, Ore., has invested its money in transit expansion, complete streets, and bike/ped projects since 2000 –and did not add a single new highway lane –our region continues to build new interchanges, add lanes, and grade separate more highways. For more information, see TLC’s recent policy brief on highway lanes (pdf).

While highway expansion makes it easier and faster to get around by car, it also makes it easier for people and businesses to locate in open space at the edge of the region. The meager job growth our region has seen since 2000 has been outside the 65 cities classified by the Met. Council as “developed.”

Subsidizing road projects in communities where you also have to build new sewer systems, new schools, and new local roads is not a cost effective strategy when we have existing communities closing schools and crying out for redevelopment.  It also seems like a bad bet as we look to a future with older residents, higher energy prices, and air quality problems.   We compete with regions such as Denver and Portland—and they are investing in a future with lots more public transit.

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