Regional transpo plan calls for less pavement, some bus and rail


Taking better care of the roads and bridges already in place is a big part of the Met Council's transportation plan for the next 20 years.

Adding additional lanes is not as big a part. The plan doesn't propose any new roadway in the region, and the reason is money.

For example, one important source of revenue, the sales tax on buying vehicles, is bringing in less than expected, according to Metropolitan Council chairman Peter Bell.

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"When we enter into tough economic times, the largest deferrable expense in a family is the purchase of a car, so that revenue source has really been hit hard," said Bell.

High on the Met Council's list of goals for transportation over the next two decades is density.

The plan's authors want to encourage mixed-use development in centers along transportation corridors that better link housing, jobs and amenities, and reduce the need for single destination trips. In other words -- get more people to live closer to where they work, shop and play.

A rather mild goal in some people's view; fighting words to others who resist pressure about where they should live.

The Twin Cities' roughly three million residents are sprawled out across nearly two dozen counties -- far beyond the seven-county realm used for planning years ago.

Roughly one-third of the Twin Cities' new development -- population and housing -- is happening in the first and second-ring suburbs, Peter Bell says.

"We're hitting that target, that's a decidedly positive factor," Bell said.

However a substantial percentage of Twin Cities development is still in third-ring suburbs and beyond. The sprawl puts pressure on cities and counties to build more roads. The relatively low density also makes supplying transit options, like bus and rail, more expensive.

Transit is a big part of the Met Council's 2030 transportation plan. The goal is to double bus and rail ridership by adding bus rapid transit service and building a new light rail link -- the Central Corridor between St. Paul and Minneapolis, among other ideas.

Rep. Alice Hausman, DFL-St. Paul and chair of the House capital investment finance committee, wonders if the layers of transit bureaucracy will impede meeting the goal.

The bureaucracy includes the Met Council, with its Metro Transit division. There are six public transit systems operated by Twin Cities suburbs that have opted out of the Metro Transit System.

There's the new Counties Transit Improvement Board with five members -- Twin Cities counties that have decided to levy a .25 cent transit sales tax. And there's the Minnesota Department of Transportation's Office of Transit.

Too many layers, Hausman says, to expand a transit network in a timely way.

"We have to move much faster in this area of developing a public mass transit system and transportation alternatives," Hausman said.

Hausman proposes combining all the various transit entities into one state transit authority.

That's not a part of the Met Council's 2030 transportation plan.

Chairman Peter Bell says he's open to hearing more about the idea, but he's concerned how planning a Twin Cities transit system fits with planning transit for an entire state.

There are six public meetings on the Twin Cities transportation plan for the next 20 years.

The Met Council adopts a plan in late October.