The public meeting that Roadguy attended yesterday had an official name so boring that he won’t mention it here, for he fears that it might put even his most alert readers to sleep. But the room was full of interesting ideas and Important People (a Bush Cabinet member led the proceedings), so read on to learn about policies that might affect you, an appearance by a canine, and some mighty cute traffic cones.
Upon arrival at the meeting, Roadguy was introduced to a MnDOT employee named Kevin, who said oh, you’re the blog guy! Kevin looked like he could pass for a bouncer, and Roadguy is always a little nervous when people he’s never met have heard of him, but fortunately, Kevin was very helpful — when I mentioned that I might take some photos, for example, he encouraged me not to step beyond the serious-looking guys with the earpieces near the front of the room. Good point; Roadguy loves to travel, but he has no desire to see Gitmo.
Created by Congress, the commission at the front of the room is informally known as the “transportation for tomorrow” commission. Several of its members were in Minneapolis all day to gather information about our region, and this particular hearing sought recommendations for a new national transportation policy. Five regional bigwigs were on hand, and here’s a sampling of their thoughts:
Carol Molnau (1), Minnesota’s lieutenant governor and transportation commissioner, told the commission that “the gas tax will never keep up” — more efficient vehicles and alternative fuels have reduced its revenue-generating power, and to replace it, she favors a mileage-based user fee that would keep track of how much a vehicle is driven. (A news story on Oregon’s test of such a system is here.)
The transportation chiefs of North Dakota (2) and South Dakota (3), meanwhile, made the case that revenue generators such as toll roads and public-private partnerships weren’t going to work in their states; you can’t have congestion pricing when you don’t have congestion. Their roads are taking a beating from things like increased ethanol production, which brings lots of trucks to rural two-lane highways, and they noted that, because of poor air service and limited or no rail service, their states are very road-dependent.
Peter Bell (4) of the Met Council and Peter McLaughlin (5) of the Hennepin County Board argued for a streamlining of federal bureaucracy so that transportation projects can get approved more quickly, with less second-guessing, because delays raise costs. As one member of the federal commission put it, “It takes 14 years to deliver a project, and that’s ‘on time.’”
The speakers were also generally opposed to earmarks, which were viewed as disruptive to the funding process. And there was much extolling of Minnesota’s success stories, from the light-rail line to the use of shoulder lanes to keep buses moving during rush hour.
After the hearing, there was a break, and as we were leaving the room, we were asked to take all bags with us, which raised Roadguy’s eyebrows a bit. The conference room was inside the McNamara Alumni Center on the East Bank campus of the University of Minnesota, where, unbeknownst to us at the time, there was a bomb scare. Our 5-minute break stretched to 45 minutes and included a visit by a bomb-sniffing dog from the airport police:
The longer break gave Kevin enough time to introduce me to Carol Molnau and a few other Important People, though Mary Peters, the U.S. transportation secretary, didn’t seem to be hanging around in the lobby with everyone else — I think the earpiece guys were making sure she was safe.
She was indeed safe, and once she was able to reconvene her commission, the topic was congestion reduction, with a focus on Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS). She called the recent fix on Highway 100 “commendable,” and she and her fellow commission members listened as a new crop of speakers urged more funding for systems such as adaptive traffic signals. (Oakland County, Michigan, was mentioned as a model; click here to see what they’re up to.)
The ITS panel wrapped up pretty quickly because of its delayed start, and when it ended, it was time for Roadguy to get going. He hated to leave the hearings behind, though, because the conference room had a couple of cool transportation-y features. There were nifty little red/yellow/green desktop stoplights that kept panelists from going on too long:
Wouldn’t those be handy at certain family gatherings? There were also mini traffic cones on the carpeting to keep people from tripping over a cable:
Roadguy resisted grabbing the cones and mini-stoplight and slipping them into his bag, and he headed back out into the real world. Within minutes, he promptly encountered disruptive road construction…
… challenging pedestrian crossings:
… and scads of rush-hour congestion on aging highways:
In other words, the “transportation for tomorrow” folks and other officials have their work cut out for them.
If you didn’t get a chance to attend the hearings but would like to submit your thoughts to the commission, click here; to submit your thoughts to Roadguy, click on the comments below.