Sen. Dibble says he's confident comprehensive transit bill can finally get done this session

Dibble: "These aren't just dollars going out, they're dollars that come back in terms of peoples' ability to get better jobs, to grow jobs in the state and metro."
Dibble: "These aren't just dollars going out, they're dollars that come back in terms of peoples' ability to get better jobs, to grow jobs in the state and metro."

Sen. Scott Dibble, D-Minneapolis, is optimistic this legislative session will finally be the one where a comprehensive transportation bill is approved and signed into law.

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A bill of that sort made it out of the Senate last year, but the House rejected the five cent gas tax increase it contained. But Dibble told City Pages the efforts of the burgeoning Move MN coalition gives him confidence the House (and Governor Dayton) may be more amenable to a robust transportation funding bill this time around.

Move MN describes itself as "a growing, diverse coalition of community organizations, businesses, and elected officials dedicated to starting to erase Minnesota's transportation deficit by requiring our current funding be more transparent and securing a comprehensive transportation funding package during the 2014 legislative session."

Dibble, the transportation committee's chair, told us his understanding is that within the next few weeks, Move MN plans to double the number of groups involved in its effort from roughly 100 to 200 in order to ramp up pressure on legislators just in time for the upcoming session.

"We're now starting to go beyond the usual realms of contractors and various government engineers and the transit and environmental advocates" that typically support transit projects, Dibble said. "Labor is starting to get much more active. The state Chamber [of Commerce] still has a ways to go, though local and regional [chapters] are really supportive."

Asked about what projects he'd like to see funded in particular, Dibble began by saying, "Southwest LRT is extremely important."

"On the east side of the metro there is this I-94 gateway corridor, either LRT or bus rapid transit, that would run from the east metro to St. Paul and by extension to Minneapolis. It's also important to take the next step in terms of planning work in the Bottineau [Corridor] up to the northwest part of the metro," Dibble continued. Another priority "is a second Amtrak train from Chicago coming in on a daily basis to the Union Depot."

Dibble also said he envisions funding for outstate projects being an important part of this session's bonding bill.

A transportation bill that goes beyond the bare-bones "lights on" version ultimately approved last year is long overdue, Dibble argued.

(For more, click to page two.)

"We passed this big bill in 2008 with an override [of Pawlenty's veto], but it was only about one-third of what we knew we had to do at the time. It was done under very difficult circumstances and came as a result of 20-plus years of inaction," Dibble said. "I'm happy we did it in 2008, but now we have this opportunity to get something done in a slightly calmer and more rational way, when people aren't totally freaked out that everything is crumbling and everything is gridlocked."

Last year, Governor Dayton opposed a gas tax hike. But Dibble said he thinks the governor might change his tune this session if it's clear Minnesotans support a transportation funding bill.

"You ask Minnesotans and they all want better roads," Dibble said. "People are hugely supportive of more transit in the metro area and that's all well and fine, but then when you start asking them how they want to pay for it, all of a sudden it breaks down and becomes politically dicey."

"The governor's message has been to go out and make the case to the public," Dibble continued. "In an election year, it's up to [transit supporters] to make it so he's not looking at [a transit bill] as a liability but as a benefit."

-- Follow Aaron Rupar on Twitter at @atrupar. Got a tip? Drop him a line at [email protected]

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