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Rita Albrecht: Legislature should boost transportation funding

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Just like Mother Nature can’t decide if it’s winter or spring, the Legislature can’t resolve its debate about transportation funding.

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Some leaders have said transportation funding cannot move forward without engaging the state’s business community. Others say they can’t pass a bill without bipartisan support.

Making excuses to avoid addressing the state’s transportation issues this session means we all lose.

It is crucial that the Legislature pass a comprehensive transportation funding package that provides long-term sustainable funding for roads, bridges, public transit, and bike and walk paths.

Outside of the Capitol, transportation is a bipartisan issue. Actually, it’s a nonpartisan issue. Mayors, county commissioners, regional chambers of commerce and local businesses understand our transportation system pumps the lifeblood into our economy.

Minnesota needs safe, reliable roads and bridges to move agricultural commodities and manufactured goods to market.

In northern Minnesota that means moving timber, paper, lumber, windows, snowmobiles, machine parts and more to market. It means having a network of well-maintained roads for school buses and visitors.

A local transportation network is a major factor in business location decisions. We can’t afford to ignore the positive economic benefits of efficient and safe transportation infrastructure necessary for new and expanding businesses.

But it’s not just about roads. Outstate Minnesota needs broad transportation investment to attract businesses, retain talent and remain desirable places to live and work.

As our population ages, a comprehensive regional transit service becomes even more important.

Bike and walk paths provide a healthy transportation alternative and provide an economic boost. Throughout the state, bicyclists spend $261 million annually supporting more than 5,000 jobs and helping to generate $35 million in taxes. That’s one reason that Bemidji is partnering with Blue Cross Blue Shield of Minnesota to install Nice Ride bicycles across the city this year.

But local governments can’t do it alone. Communities need the Legislature to make transportation a priority in 2014.

Outstate Minnesota and the Twin Cities may not always agree on state spending priorities or legislative policies, but we are in universal agreement that Minnesota is in a global race to attract and retain businesses and talent. Investing in transportation will make our rural towns, regional centers and the metro area more attractive and successful.

There is still time for the Legislature to do the right thing and focus on transportation this year. Let’s not let the clock run out on this opportunity to make an investment in long-term sustainable funding for all transportation modes.

We are one Minnesota. Together we can do big things that keep Minnesota competitive.

RITA ALBRECHT, mayor of Bemidji, wrote this commentary on behalf of Move MN, which bills itself as a large, diverse group of advocates who know funding for transportation is critical to economic competitiveness and quality of life.

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