Elwyn Tinklenberg can't figure it out. The Minnesota Department of Transportation commissioner sees strong, across-the-board support for transportation projects this year, yet there's been little or no progress in the 2002 legislative session.
In an interview with The Brainerd Dispatch last week Tinklenberg cited polls and surveys that show citizen support for increased transportation spending. He also said business and labor groups are in accord on the need for more transportation funding.
"This is a really historic opportunity," Tinklenberg said. "There is no excuse for not doing something this year. We hope the Legislature moves quickly to resolve the deficit issues and actually do something (on transportation.)"
The gas tax hasn't been increased since 1988, yet the lawmakers are reluctant to raise it.
With the accelerated funding Tinklenberg is seeking, the completion of a four-lane road from Brainerd to Little Falls (now pegged for 2006) could be moved up to 2004.
"This needs to be the year we find a way to move forward," Tinklenberg said. "Support is there. The only thing missing is funding."
The Northstar Corridor, a commuter rail system that would stretch into central Minnesota and connect with the Twin Cities' light rail system, has funding in the Senate's transportation package but not in the House version of the bill. Use of the rail corridors, without the need to acquire right-of-way, makes a lot of sense he said.
Although some politicians are critical of light rail, Tinklenberg said it was a good deal, noting that it would only take a state commitment of $100 million to complete a $674 million light rail project. It would be a good would be a good investment in Minnesota, he said.
Tinklenberg said Minnesotans are paying money into the federal transit funds and it's time to have that money go to work for Minnesota.
In his view, everybody benefits from a successful light rail project. Those who want to ride light rail have that new alternative and those who want to continue to use the highways would benefit from less congestion.
"I'm just perplexed as to why there is such resistance," Tinklenberg said.
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