Speakers target transportation in State of the Region address

by The speakers

The state of the Twin Cities seven-county metro region was deemed “pretty good” by Metropolitan Council Chairman Ted Mondale on Monday morning at the State of the Region address in downtown Minneapolis.
Along with Gov. Jesse Ventura and six commissioners representing several state agencies, Mondale spoke to roughly 300 people about urban planning issues and also unveiled a proposal that would tax automobile sales to generate funding for transportation projects like light rail transit.
“The University has limited amounts of additional land to develop its facilities on,” said El Tinklenberg, commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Transportation. “The more we take up with parking lots, the less opportunity there is going to be to expand and broaden its facilities and programs.”
Parking and Transportation Services public relations representative Carrie Hatcher said that as more buildings are developed on campus, the parking supply decreases, evidenced by the Gateway Center, currently under construction.
After the center and the underground parking lot are completed, the University will have lost a total of 900 parking spaces.
“Because we are a landlocked urban University, the only alternative is to build up or build down and even the space for that is diminishing,” Hatcher said.
Mondale said that the Metropolitan Council is looking at ways to increase bus ridership to and from campus to deal with congestion problems.
“We’re in a rebuilding phase,” Mondale said of the bus system, which has lost ridership in the past 10 years. “We think the fares we charge are way too high, especially for people on tight incomes like students, and we’re looking for creative ways to deal with that.”
One creative way Mondale mentioned was to promote the U-Pass, an unlimited bus pass that would allow students to receive a reduced rate. An experimental pass called the Como Metro Pass, which provides students who are residents of the Como area with unlimited bus service, was used as a test model to gauge student interest in the U-Pass.
Though the pass has demonstrated its success since it was introduced, the Student Services Fees Committee has killed past pass proposals.
The featured announcement of the speech was a new plan to use tax dollars to create the “Transit Mobility Fund.” The fund would receive 5 percent of the motor vehicle excise tax revenues beginning in the year 2002. This would create an estimated $25 million per year to be spent on eligible transportation projects. To be eligible, a project must include a land use plan and must have funding provided by local and federal governments.
Ventura stressed the importance of doing, instead of discussing transportation projects.
“We will not fail to deliver on transit and transportation plans that include smart growth and land use strategies … it’s about time,” Ventura said. “We’ve had all the studies in the world and it’s time to put those studies to work. It’s game time.”
Ventura also took a moment to chide the media for focusing on the throwing of a pie in reports of a recent trip he made to the Whittier neighborhood, instead of focusing on the accomplishments the neighborhood had made in rebounding from an economic lapse.
“I ask you media,” Ventura said, “support your stories with facts, support your stories with what’s good for Minnesota.”