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Minnesota

Transportation Nation

Twin Cities Planning Organization Saw 'Golden Age'

Friday, December 31, 2010

(St. Paul, Minn. -- Dan Olson, MPR) A powerful layer of Twin Cities government that many voters have never heard of has a new chair.

On Wednesday Minn. Governor-elect Mark Dayton appointed Susan Haigh to replace Peter Bell as chair of the Metropolitan Council, the regional planning board that oversees transit in the Twin Cities.

Bell is the Met Council's longest serving chair, and the Republican appointee has overseen the completion of several major transit projects. He says the Met Council experienced a "golden age" on his watch.

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Transportation Nation

Charity CEO Picked to Head Minn. Transit Board

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Susan Haigh, has been picked as the new leader for the board that runs the Twin Cities transit system. has been picked by Gov.-elect Mark Dayton as the new leader for the board that runs the Twin Cities transit system. (MPR Photo / Dan Olson)

(St Paul, Minn--Tim Pugmire, Dan Olson, MPR) Minnesota Governor-elect Mark Dayton filled a key transportation cabinet post Wednesday with his selection of Susan Haigh as Metropolitan Council chair. Metropolitan Council is the board that runs the Twin Cities transit system.

Haigh is currently CEO of Twin Cities Habitat for Humanity, where she said she plans to continue her work. She also served 10 years as a Ramsey County Commissioner and 12 years as a chief deputy county attorney. In a news release, Dayton called Haigh a "proven leader and consensus-builder."

The governor appoints the 17 member Met Council which oversees the work of 3,700 employees and an annual budget of about $780 million.

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Transportation Nation

A Bridge to ... London?! Historical Map with Grand Rail Plans

Monday, December 06, 2010

(St. Paul, Minnesota -- Dan Olson, MPR News) Who says people out here in Flyoverland don't dream big  transportation dreams?  Remember the contemporary kerfuffle over the bridge to nowhere?  Well, here's  a circa 1871 vision for a bridge to somewhere -- a rail line from St. Paul to the East Coast, with a bridge to London! Note the heading reads "St. Paul in the year 1900."

It's a map in the Minnesota Historical Society collection in St. Paul.  MnHS curator and map wrangler Patrick Coleman says the idea was created by the Tea Partiers of that era. Check with him for more on that.

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Transportation Nation

Jim Oberstar, Exit Interview after 17 Terms with House Transportation Committee

Friday, December 03, 2010

Rep. James Oberstar (Dem-Minn.) is about to leave the House after serving 17 terms representing the 8th Congressional District of Minnesota. He's spent 15 years as the senior Democrat  on the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, with two terms as chairman. Oberstar has presided over or participated in some of the biggest highway and transportation bills in recent memory. But his vision for a transformative, nearly $500 billion surface transportation authorization bill was dashed when Congress couldn't agree on how to fund the ambitious bill earlier this year. Transportation Nation Washington Correspondent Todd Zwillich sat down with Oberstar in his Capitol Hill office to talk about the Congress and the future of transportation funding in an age of budget austerity.

"In the stimulus, the $34 billion we were allocated for highway and transit resulted in resurfacing and rebuilding 35,411 lane-miles of highway nationwide. That’s equal to ¾ of the entire state highway program. Yet that represents 4 percent of the state of good repair needs of our national highway system. Four percent!"

Listen here:

[MP3]http://audio.wnyc.org/tn/tn120201oberstar.mp3[/MP3]

TRANSCRIPT:

Todd Zwillich: Congressman James Oberstar of Minnesota. Thanks for being with us.

Rep. James Oberstar: My privilege and pleasure to be on the program with you.

TZ: I wanted to start with some transportation issues, of course since you have had your tenure as Chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. You tried to achieve an ambitious surface transportation bill. It did not come to pass. … left undone, what do you think is the most critical transportation issue facing this country?

JO: A long term authorization for the surface transportation programs of the nation: highway, bridge, transit, highway safety. And the livability issues that have become such a centerpiece for transportation over the past dozen plus years, since the end of the interstate era and the beginning of a new era for transportation. Livability is foremost in people’s minds. Passing a long-term, six year authorization would give stability to the states, to the contractor community, to building trades, labor, to the transit sector, it will result in—if we pass the $450 billion bill—six million construction jobs over the next six years. It will give states the ability to bring our existing portfolio of highway projects up to a state of good repair and go beyond with major rebuild projects such as the Brent-Spence bridge between Ohio and Kentucky, which carries 3 percent of the GDP of the nation. It would allow Oregon to complete its work on a whole stretch of bridges that were sub-standard on Interstate 5 on the West Coast.

"This is the transportation bill of the future that we need. A funding mechanism for it is essential, that’s where it foundered. President Obama said that he could not support an increase in the user fee, the gas tax, which three Republican presidents have supported: Eisenhower, President Reagan, and President George Bush the first."

There are many other instances I can provide of major rebuild projects that are long term, create stability in the construction sector, but add to our GNP and ability to move goods and people more efficiently. This is the transportation bill of the future that we need. A funding mechanism for it is essential, that’s where it foundered. President Obama said that he could not support an increase in the user fee, the gas tax, which three Republican presidents have supported: Eisenhower, President Reagan, and President George Bush the first.

But the reluctance to

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The Takeaway

Exit Interview: Rep. Jim Oberstar (D-Minn.)

Friday, December 03, 2010

After 35 years representing Minnesota constituents in the U.S. House of Representatives, Democratic Rep. Jim Oberstar will empty his office on Capitol Hill at the end of this month. Oberstar currently serves as the chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, a position he has held since 2007. He is one of dozens of incumbents voted out of office earlier this year during midterm elections. What are his thoughts on the eve of his departure?

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Transportation Nation

Rep. Oberstar Chairs Final Transpo Hearing after 46 Years of with Committee

Thursday, December 02, 2010

(St. Paul, Minn. — Bob Kelleher, MPR) Rep. Jim Oberstar on Thursday chaired his last meeting of the House Transportation Committee that he's served in some capacity for 46 years.

Illinois Democratic Rep. Daniel Lipinski said he's drawing up legislation to name a new Department of Transportation headquarters building after the outgoing Minnesota Congressman.

Lipinski joined members of the committee with words of praise for Oberstar. Comments were bi-partisan, led by incoming chair and ranking member Rep. John Mica, R-Florida.

"We are truly blessed to be able to serve the people," Lipinski said. "And the people have been blessed to have your service for these years."

Oberstar told committee members his service has been a long, fulfilling and productive journey.

Oberstar commended the significance of the committee's work funding enduring infrastructure like highways and bridges.

"That our body of work, when we leave this place, will be there for our children, that it will be an enduring monument for this country, then we will have achieved our goal of serving the public," Oberstar said.

Committee members from both sides of the aisle gave Oberstar two standing ovations and ongoing praise. Oberstar leaves office after losing his re-election bid to incoming Republican Chip Cravaack.

For audio of Oberstar's final hearing head to our partner, MPR.

Watch this site for a Transportatio Nation interview with Oberstar to be posted soon.

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The Takeaway

Somali-Americans Struggle, Living in Two Worlds

Thursday, December 02, 2010

The arrest of 19-year-old Mohamed Osman Mohamud, in connection with a failed plot to detonate a car bomb in Portland, Oregon, has brought attention to the nation’s growing Somali community. Even before Mohamud's arrest, young Somalis have often become the focus of negative media attention — often linked to gang violence, stories of radicalization and drug or sex trafficking.

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Transportation Nation

Minn. Commuter Rail Celebrates 1st Birthday, Not Meeting Ridership Targets

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Image: (CC) by Flickr user Mulad.

(Tim Nelson, MPR) Minnesota's first commuter rail line marked its first anniversary Tuesday morning.

This year, nearly 600,000 people have stepped aboard the line's trains for the half-dozen round trips Northstar makes daily between Big Lake, Minn. and downtown Minneapolis.

But there haven't been as many riders as Northstar's builders had hoped when the line opened with great fanfare. Ridership is running about 5 percent below projections -- or about 30,000 fares. The shortfall is expected to worsen to as much as 15 to 20 percent below projections for the rest of this year.

Still, commuters who use the line are happy that they can take the train instead of driving.

"Traffic's pretty bad, and the train is a lot easier," said Jeff Burrell, a systems administrator who lives in Coon Rapids. "It's cheaper than paying for filling my tank every four days. It's convenient, it's more convenient [and] it's a smoother ride than the bus."

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Transportation Nation

Minn. Lawmaker Defends Earmarks, Vows to Save Light Rail Funds

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

(St. Paul -- Elizabeth Dunbar, Minnesota Public Radio) While Republicans are set to formalize a non-binding pledge banning earmarks, not every legislator thinks it's good policy. U.S. Rep. Betty McCollum (D-MN), defended congressional earmarks today, saying limits have been put in place and that the money spent on them represents only a small part of the overall federal budget.

Republican House leaders called for a moratorium on the earmark process, which allows members of Congress to fund specific projects in their states or districts. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), has said he also supports a ban on earmarks.

But McCollum said she's concerned about the $45 million earmark pending before the House for Minnesota's Central Corridor light rail project. She said the project is worthwhile and will create thousands of jobs.

"[Earmarks are] one half of one percent of the entire federal budget," McCollum told MPR's Morning Edition. "This is for local communities. I'm a big supporter of local control, especially when it comes to spending some of our tax dollars."

McCollum said she is working with the Obama administration to save Central Corridor from Republican cuts.

While the light rail project is a priority, McCollum said there are other earmarks she's supported in past years, such as money for the Harriet Tubman crisis centers in the Twin Cities.

"That's a community project that the community came together and said, 'Would you help us fund this,'" she said.

Listen to the full interview with McCollum at MPR.

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The Takeaway

Descendents of Dakota People March to Remember Tortured Ancestors

Friday, November 12, 2010

This week, descendants of the Dakota people are walking 150 miles through southern Minnesota to remember the 1,700 people who, in 1862, were forced to march to concentration camps as punishment for uprising against the whites. Many people died of starvation and disease along the way, and the survivors were scattered to other parts of the Midwest. 

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Transportation Nation

Oberstar Stands Firm on Record in Transportation-Filled Farewell Speech

Wednesday, November 03, 2010



(Alex Goldmark, Transportation Nation) Rep. Jim Oberstar (D-Minn.) Chair of the  House Transportation Committee was unseated Tuesday. He has served Minnesota since 1974, an he sure had a lot to say about his transportation tenure. Below is the full audio of his emotional, proud, and of course, transportation-filled farewell speech.

"In the business world when the profits of sales go down, the CEO says, well it was sales, or marketing ... in this arena you look into the mirror and say, it was me. But there is nothing I would take back. "

About 6:25 into his remarks, Oberstar starts to list off all the work he is proud of, and it reads like the list of roads, bridges, tunnels and infrastructure that cover Minnesota.

"I can't change, and I wouldn't change any of the votes I cast this year to bring us out of the worst recession, to chart a course for the future ... I wouldn't change any of the votes I cast to bring forward the stimulus. Because the bridge over Interstate 35 at North Branch will be there long after I leave office, and long after any successor. That's a 100 year bridge. And the bridge at County Road 17 over I-35 ... that will be there long after..."

As for what this transportation legislator will do next, he says he will reflect for a while and look for something "in the public arena."

Download the full audio as broadcast by MPR.

Read more at MPR.

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Transportation Nation

Transit and Transportation at Stake in Several Key Races

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

(Alex Goldmark, Transportation Nation) We've been closely watching the intersection of transportation and politics on this site.  Here are a few races where transportation may affect the outcome, or where the outcome may affect transportation.

The race: Maryland Governor -- Repub. Bob Ehrlich,  Dem. Martin O’Malley

What's at stake: It's a race of rail vs bus. The two candidates each support extending some form of public transit to the area of Maryland in the Washington D.C. suburbs. O'Malley wants the proposed Purple Line while Erlich prefers a bus plan. Maryland is a deep blue state, so Ehrlich's chances aren't great. But O'Malley isn't hugely popular and this is not a good year for Democrats nationwide, so an upset is always possible and the Purple Line hangs in the balance. (Read more.)

The race: 8th Congressional District, Minnesota -- Incumbent Dem. Jim Oberstar, Chair of House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, Repub. Chip Cravaack

What's at stake: Congressional control. Oberstar is currently the Chair of the Congressional transportation committee. He's in charge of the purse strings on countless transportation and infrastructure projects around the nation. He's called for a massive transportation funding package that would be less likely to pass without a champion at the helm of transportation committee. Even if Oberstar holds on in this tighter-than-expected race, he may lose his chairmanship if Republicans take control of the House.   The ranking member of the House Transportation Committee is Republican John Mica of Florida, who, like Oberstar, has been a champion of increased transportation funding and high speed rail.  In fact, Mica and Oberstar have joined to assail the Obama administration for not making transportation spending a higher priority.

"I view this as the most critical jobs bill before Congress ... we're going to do it together, one way or another, come hell or high water," Mica said in 2009 of the transportation bill.  But it's unclear how Mica would hew to this agenda with a much more conservative, less spending-friendly congress. (Read more from MPR)

The race: Ohio Governor -- Incumbent Dem. Ted Strickland, Repub. John Kasich

What's at stake: High speed rail spending. Kasich has proposed repurposing the

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Transportation Nation

Minnesota Gov Candidates Agree: More Buses, No Gas Tax, But Disagree on How to Get It Done

Monday, November 01, 2010

(St. Paul, Minn --Dan Olson, Minnesota Public Radio) The candidates vying to replace Minnesota governor, and potential Presidential candidate Tim Pawlenty, appear to agree on major transportation issues: They all oppose a gas tax increase, they favor more borrowing and they support bus transit. But dig a little deeper and the three diverge on the details of all those issues. (Listen to this story at MPR.)

Republican Tom Emmer, Independence Party candidate Tom Horner and Democrat Mark Dayton all agree this is not the time to raise Minnesota's gasoline tax.

Beyond that however, Emmer sounds a familiar campaign theme. He says money for transportation will come as the state does more to encourage business growth. "That's the way you solve it, you don't keep raising the tax and driving away the business, let's grow the business so we collect more of the revenue," Emmer said.

State transportation officials estimate Minnesota is short about a billion dollars or more a year in keeping up with road and bridge needs. That puts a spotlight on another major revenue source, borrowing.

The Pawlenty administration has relied heavily on borrowing to fund road and bridge projects. The three gubernatorial candidates agree borrowing is an important revenue source.

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The Takeaway

My Fair Butterhead: State Fair Foods, Culture and History

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

This week, more state fairs kick off than at any other time of the year. Fairs will open in Nebraska, New York, Maryland, Texas, and Minnesota, which attracts more fairgoers in its twelve days than any other state fair in the country (last year nearly two million visitors passed through the Minnesota fair's gates).

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Transportation Nation

Engineering Firm to Pay $52.4M in Bridge Collapse

Monday, August 23, 2010

(St. Paul, Minn. - MPR News)  More than 100 victims and their family members have reached a settlement agreement with an engineering contractor over the Interstate 35W bridge collapse in 2007.  MPR News is covering.

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Transportation Nation

Technology Is Key to Curb Deaths on Minnesota's Roadways

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

This is Minnesota's most crash-prone stretch of freeway, a half-mile, westbound portion of Interstate 94 on the south side of downtown Minneapolis. Cars from multiple lanes and another freeway mix and merge where the roadway curves and dips, taking many rush hour drivers by surprise. (MPR Photo/Dan Olson)

(St. Paul, Minn. - Dan Olson, MPR News) The number of deaths on Minnesota's highways is at a six-decade low -- 421 last year -- due in large part to improved technology, experts say. There's a lot of technology just around the corner that will save even more lives: ways to alert drivers to "lane drift," gizmos that slow speeding drivers, shut down all cell phones except for 911 calls, or email parents at home if a young driver is violating Minnesota's graduated driver's license rules by being out too late or has too many passengers in the car.

More from MPR News.

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The Takeaway

Ethical Issues Arise in Magazine's Outing of Anti-Gay Pastor

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

A local Minneapolis magazine is getting backlash from readers for its decision to run a story about an anti-gay pastor who attended a support group for men grappling with same-sex attraction. Lavender Magazine reported that Rev. Tom Brock, of the Hope Lutheran Church, who publicly criticized the Evangelical Lutheran Church for liberalizing its gay clergy policies, attended Faith in Action, the Minnesota affiliate of the Catholic Church's Courage program. The program, according to its website, claims people can "move beyond the confines of the homosexual identity" by developing an interior life of chastity.

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Transportation Nation

Minnesota Says It's Making Progress With Bridge Inspections

Friday, June 18, 2010

(St. Paul, Minnesota - Dan Olson, MPR News)  The Winona Bridge underscores Minnesota's aging transportation infrastructure.  State bridge inspectors on a routine inspection last week spotted  spreading corrosion, made a repair and slapped on some weight restrictions. The rust illustrates the problems associated with that 69-year-old structure and dozens of other spans around the state.

The 2007 collapse of the 35W bridge in Minneapolis put bridge safety at the top of the state's transportation agenda. In 2008, a report from the Office of the Legislative Auditor found problems with the Minnesota Department of Transportation bridge inspection system.  The Auditor's report cited untimely bridge inspections, with only 85 percent of bridges inspected within the federal 24-month standard. MnDoT had too few inspectors and documentation of maintenance performed following bridge inspections was inadequate.  State officials say they're making progress responding to bridge inspection shortcomings.

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Transportation Nation

Minneapolis Rolls Out Bike Share

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Friends Mark Hawkins, right, and Sherri Juenemann stopped to check out one of the new Nice Ride bicycle kiosks in Minneapolis. Nice Ride is the largest bike sharing program in the country, and allows riders to pick up, use, and drop off bicycles throughout Minneapolis for a user fee. (MPR Photo/Jeffrey Thompson)

(Minneapolis, MN - Dan Olson, MPR News) - As of today, residents of the Twin Cities can zip around on two wheels with one of the nation's largest bike share programs.  Seven hundred "Nice Ride" bikes are available for rent at 65 locations.

Nice Ride Minnesota Executive director Bill Dossett says downtown Minneapolis office workers are among his many potential customers.  Dossett said many workers arrive downtown by transit. Instead of going to a nearby meeting by bus or train they can rent a bike for $5 or for a yearly subscription of $60.

"Another group that we've seen in other cities that really use bike share are students. So, you've got all those students at the University [of Minnesota], at Augsburg and other colleges around downtown," Dossett said. "You've got a lot of them use public transportation and having the bike as additional tool they can use with the bus is really a great asset to them.  More.

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On Being

Columba Stewart and Getatchew Haile — Preserving Words and Worlds [remix]

Thursday, May 06, 2010

Saint John's University and Abbey in rural Minnesota houses a monastic library that rescues writings from across the centuries and across the world. There are worlds in this place on palm leaf and papyrus, in microfilm and pixels. And the relevance of the

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