Minnesota Gov Candidates Face Roadblock
By Jennifer Brown, Staff Assistant
Minnesota commuters will not be the only ones tied up in traffic in the coming months. Congestion on Minnesota's deteriorating roads and bridges has reached the point that gubernatorial candidates will have to address the issue.
"It's not going to be possible for anyone running for governor to evade the transportation issue," Minnesota Transportation Commissioner Elwyn Tinklenberg said. "They will need a plan and they are going to have to talk about funding."
Tinklenberg said estimates show Minnesota needs to add 49 additional lane miles a year to avoid congestion, but current funding levels will allow the state to add only about 10 lane miles.
State officials point fingers in all directions when asked why there is such a big transportation problem.
Tinklenberg blames Republicans for refusing to raise the gas tax.
The Minnesota Legislature did not pass a transportation-funding bill this session because of disagreements about the gas tax and whether money should be used for roads or transit. Two of the gubernatorial candidates are the House and Senate majority leaders.
"In eight years, there was no substantive funding program that came out of the House of Representatives," Tinklenberg said. "I think it's responsible for the voters to ask why."
Rep. Carol Molnau, the transportation finance committee chairwoman and the Republican candidate for lieutenant governor, blamed Gov. Jesse Ventura for vetoing anything that said "transportation." She also said the transportation fund financed by the gas tax has doubled since 1988 because of an increased use in gasoline.
House majority leader Tim Pawlenty, the Republican candidate, signed a no-tax-increase pledge and said he wants to fund transportation projects with government bonds and future payments from the state's tobacco settlement.
Pawlenty said the emphasis for Minnesota's transportation funding needs to be placed on infrastructure because 95 percent of Minnesotans get around by car.
"Even if we double transit in the next 10 years, 90 percent would still get around by car," Pawlenty said.
Senate majority leader Roger Moe, the Democratic candidate, backs an increase in Minnesota's gas tax, which has not been changed since 1988.
Moe believes that Minnesota's congestion problem will not be solved without adding more transportation options such as the light rail transit system and commuter rail, he says on his campaign Web site.
"Not many people would want to live the way they would have to if we approach our transportation only by replacing asphalt and concrete," Tinklenberg said. "We have to pursue a mixed strategy out of necessity and out of good planning."
Independent candidate Tim Penny could not be reached and has not yet made a statement about transportation.
Green Party candidate Ken Pentel believes Minnesota has hit a wall on the transportation issue.
"The Republicans have a real ball and chain to carry around because people in the state are frustrated," Pentel said. "The Democrats have been about maintaining. Transportation is going to be a major issue in the campaign."