Republicans want to strip Met Council of transportation authority

Sen. Claire Robling wants to take transportation planning away from Met Council
Sen. Claire Robling wants to take transportation planning away from Met Council

A proposal to overhaul the Metropolitan Council--the agency responsible for long-term transportation planning, including bringing in money to expand light rail--is gaining ground in the Legislature.

At the heart of the matter is a conflict over transportation priorities: Planning for growth versus maintaining current infrastructure. And the people behind the bill--the pro-growth faction--are pretty unhappy with the decisions the council has recently made.

"They want to take that transportation planning ability away from the Met Council," says Susan Haigh, the council chair.

Scott County Commissioner Jon Ulrich, a 10-year member of the advisory board, has long been frustrated by the division of power between the advisory board and the Met Council. Things came to a head last year when the Council adopted a transit plan that Ulrich felt was too hasty, without enough time for public review.

He's frustrated that the Met Council remains focused on maintaining current infrastructure, rather than expanding to meet growth. The relationship between the council and its advisory board has become distrustful, as the legislative auditor pointed out in a January report. [Read the executive summary here or the full report here].

Especially vexing seems to be the fact that members of the advisory board to the Met Council are appointed, rather than elected.

"We believe it does not conform with federal law," he says.

This week, a bill to kick off appointees and hand Met Council's transportation responsibilities over to the board cleared the first hurdle, when it passed the local government and elections committee.

If the bill ultimately becomes law, the 33-member advisory board would become a 24-person board charged with the long-term transportation planning for the seven-county Twin Cities metro area. The majority of the members--17--would be local elected officials.

Haigh, the Met Council chair, says her agency already makes long-term plans for parks and open space, water quality, and environment--and that it should continue to plan transit, too.

"To say we're going to separate off that one function doesn't make much sense," she says.

The fight has been characterized as a dispute between suburban and urban projects--and it is true that most of the projects slated for funding are within the 494/694 circuit. But Ulrich says that's not his beef.

"One project we fought for was 494 and 169," he says, pointing out that those major highways are 15 miles away from Scott County. "It's just an effort to marginalize us as Scott County is sour grapes."

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