Federal funds might boost local transit projects

by Nathan Hall

With a struggling national economy and record-breaking state deficits, good budget news has been in short supply.

But some positive developments might be on the way for Twin Cities-area environment and traffic programs.

Approximately $90 million in federal transportation funds will soon be up for grabs. The money will be allocated for 2007-08 budgets under the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century, originally started under the Clinton administration.

Applications will be accepted during June for transit and transportation improvement projects in the seven-county Twin Cities area.

The Transportation Advisory Board, which reports to the Metropolitan Council, will distribute the grants.

“We won’t know what the projects are until July or August,” said Bonnie Kollodge, a Transportation Advisory Board representative.

Approximately $50 million is slated for highway, walkway and bicycle projects. Approximately $30 million will be set aside for transit projects to improve air quality, and $10 million will fund bicycling and jogging facilities.

“From what I’ve heard so far, this sounds awesome,” said Brian Wachutka, a University natural resources senior and founder of the EcoWatch student group.

“Making things like biking easier will definitely make for a safer and cleaner environment,” Wachutka said.

“I think this is a phenomenal step in the right direction,” said Abby Korte, a University environmental sciences senior and Greenpeace campus organizer. “I live in the Midway neighborhood, and it’s potentially dangerous for me to bike to class.”

At the first hearing last Wednesday, Transportation Advisory Board officials put the grant cap at $5.5 million per individual idea and required a local contribution in funding which must be at least 20 percent of a proposed project’s total cost.

The transportation act prposed projects is designed to work with the Intermodal Surface Efficiency Act, which addresses highway and other road funding issues.

Since it was passed in December 1991, the Twin Cities area has received $335 million in Surface Transportation Program allotments.

The Transportation Equity Act is also an umbrella for the Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement program, which reinforces the 1990 Clean Air Act’s stricter requirements for polluting small particulate matter.

Most particulates, such as carbon monoxide emissions that create ground-level ozone, are associated with automobiles.

According to Environmental Protection Agency data projected for 2005, a car traveling 65 miles per hour releases 17 percent of its potential carbon dioxide, while a vehicle idling at 3 miles per hour puts almost 100 percent directly into the air.

Raw statistics

Local nonprofit organization Transit for Livable Communities reported the average Twin Cities resident spends a little more than 38 hours per year – the equivalent of a full work week – stuck in traffic.

According to Minnesota Pollution Control Agency numbers, Minnesotans drive more than 123 million miles per day – 45 billion miles per year.

American Demographics magazine reported recently that Twin Cities metro area drivers have a higher incidence of driving alone than in any other U.S. metropolitan area.

The Public Health Group at Harvard University now estimates U.S. air pollution might contribute to more than 60,000 deaths per year.

Nathan Hall covers the environment and transportation and welcomes comments at [email protected]