Legislators identify priorities on transportation

Legislators identify priorities on transportation

Enacting strategic and sustained funding for the statewide transportation network – roads, bridges and transit – is among the Minnesota Chamber’s top priorities for the 2017 Legislature. Following are Q&As with Senator Scott Newman and Representative Paul Torkelson.

Senator Scott Newman
R-Hutchinson
Chair, Senate Transportation Finance and Policy Committee

Senator Newman was elected the House in 2003 and the Senate in 2010.

This is your first session as chair of the Senate Transportation Finance Committee. What motivated you to step up within your caucus to take on the responsibilities?
Transportation is one of the most important and difficult issues facing the Legislature. The economic vitality of the state depends on a vibrant transportation and transit system. I want to be part of creating that system.

What’s different about 2017 that will lend itself to finally getting a long-term, comprehensive transportation funding bill done?
The voters have expressed their desire, and it is now up to the Legislature to respond to them. What are the biggest challenges that need to be overcome this session in putting a bill together that can pass the Legislature and be signed into law by the Governor? The significant uncertainty in dealing with the funding structure for metropolitan transit. The federal government has sent mixed signals as to what if any transit funding we will receive, the controversy swirling around light rail and Southwest Light Rail Transit in particular, and the potential of the Counties Transit Improvement Board dissolution come together like a perfect storm that prevents the Legislature from seeing with any degree of clarity what the future holds for metropolitan transit.

What are the biggest transportation challenges facing Greater Minnesota? How about in the metro?
For both it is creating a reliable and adequate funding stream plus putting into place a project selection process that is both transparent and responsive to the needs of the voters.

Representative Paul Torkelson
R-Hanska
Chair, House Transportation Finance Committee

Representative Torkelson was elected in 2004 to the House.

This is your first session as chair of the House Transportation Finance Committee. What motivated you to step up within your caucus to take on the responsibilities?
I’ve always had an interest in transportation, and when I saw there was a chairman vacancy on the Transportation Finance Committee, it presented me with an opportunity to get more involved. What’s different about 2017 that will lend itself to finally getting a long-term, comprehensive transportation funding bill done? There is a pent-up demand among residents across Minnesota. We have a broad coalition of statewide organizations that want action, as well as strong interest from citizens who recognize the need for a long-term transportation funding solution.

What are the biggest challenges that need to be overcome this session in putting a bill together that can pass the Legislature and be signed into law by the Governor?
Finding a balanced solution that properly prioritizes Minnesota’s short-term and long-term transportation needs. In order to find a balanced solution it is important to understand the impact of potential changes in regional funding and the possibility of changes in federal financing.

What are the biggest transportation challenges facing Greater Minnesota? How about in the metro?
For both Greater Minnesota and the metro area, the challenge is creating a bill that includes predictable funding sources for local roads, bridges, transit and highways. One of the solutions is to adequately fund the Corridors of Commerce program, which, when passed, will invest in both the rural and metropolitan areas. The bottom line is the state of Minnesota has a constitutional duty to construct, improve and maintain trunk highways, county state-aid highways and municipal state-aid streets.