Writer’s Block: More funds for transportation are needed

When I was interviewing Mounds View resident Ken Glidden for an article about the possibility of MnPASS lanes being constructed along I-35W north of downtown Minneapolis to Lexington Avenue in Blaine, one good point he raised was that the government needs to figure out a better long-term funding solution for fixing roads.

Eric Hagen

Eric Hagen

Glidden called MnPASS lanes “privileged lanes” because he feels those with extra money to spare will have a quicker commute while others will not really benefit that much because they cannot use that lane during the morning or afternoon rush hour unless they are carpooling.

I received a follow-up email from one of the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) sources I had used for the article.

Brad Larsen, who is in charge of the MnPASS program, said he wished he would have been able to speak with Glidden because he said a common misconception about MnPASS lanes are there only for the wealthy.

He said they are primarily for bus riders and carpoolers who cross all income brackets.

I live in Ramsey and work in Coon Rapids and take either Highway 10 or Bunker Lake Boulevard for my east-west route, so I am rarely around downtown Minneapolis or St. Paul during the rush hours.

When I have got off work Friday and driven down to a friend’s house in Burnsville, I have been stuck in traffic and do get annoyed at seeing the MnPASS lanes not too busy while the other lanes are clogged with traffic.

So I can appreciate Glidden’s frustration that very few benefit from MnPASS lanes.

According to Larsen, about 23,000 are regular users of MnPASS on both I-35W south of Minneapolis to Burnsville and on I-394 between I-94 and Highway 100.

I do not know how many vehicles are out there, but this does not seem like a very high number.

On the other hand, I can appreciate that the goal of MnPASS is to encourage carpooling or the use of mass transit.

Because I do not commute downtown and use my own vehicle, it is hard for me to say people should use mass transit or carpool when their own situation may make it difficult.

What I agree with the most is Glidden’s belief that a better long-term funding solution needs to be figured out.

Taxes on gas, license tabs and vehicle purchases are the user fees that exist today for those of us that have our own vehicle. Those who commute obviously pay through their bus or rail fares.

With vehicles becoming more efficient, this impacts the amount of gas tax revenue coming in.

A bad economy can lead to people holding on to their old vehicles a little longer. The older a vehicle, the less the license tab fee.

Minnesota House Transportation Policy Committee Chairman Ron Erhardt, DFL-Edina, recently proposed phasing in a nickel increase to the 28.5-cent per gallon state gas tax over time, raising the tax on propane and liquefied natural gas by several cents over three years, increasing the flat tab fee paid on older vehicles by $10 and expanding the state sales tax to automotive parts and services.

I hate paying more taxes than the next person, but a good transportation system is important and spreading out the costs to multiple funding sources makes more sense than just focusing on one area.

I honestly would not mind seeing certain high traffic freeways such as I-35W, I-94, I-694 and I-494 being toll roads where everyone would need a transponder and be charged based on how long they are on the road.

The charge should be very minimal so the hope is people do not take other major roads to avoid the tolls.

The additional revenue should just be for the toll roads, however.

I would not want to see toll booths where people have to stop to throw change in a bucket or pay a toll attendant because that would slow down traffic even more I think.

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