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'You can't get there from here' too common a refrain in greater MN

"You can't get there from here." This refrain, a mainstay of small talk in New England, has migrated to Minnesota. For anyone familiar with public transit in Greater Minnesota, it's a complaint that is far too common. As commuters, college students, and the car-less all know, you often can't get there from here.

This worsening problem is critically important in Greater Minnesota. One reason is that Greater Minnesota's population is aging faster than in the Cities or suburbs. Senior citizens who no longer drive find it challenging, if not impossible, to remain in their homes and still get to church, the store or the doctor. Additionally, workers, students and others are deeply concerned, especially when gas prices rose and transit was not a viable option.

The obstacles are especially prevalent if your doctor or store is in a different county. As we hear all too often, if a person needs to cross a county line on public transit, you can't get there from here. A rider can be left at the county line, trying to figure out how to access the next county's system. And in six counties, you can't get around within the county on public transit: there is no county service whatsoever.

Why? In part, it's a question of available funding. MnDOT Commissioner Thomas Sorel recently reported that road and bridge funding continues to lag: so has Minnesota's investment in rail, ports, airports and transit.

Much of the problem lies in the fragmented public transit patchwork in Minnesota. Cities, counties and regions are not well coordinated, do not cover the entire state, and often provide widely different levels and types of service.

The Twin Cities metro area has long had an agency charged with planning and operating a comprehensive transit system. The Metropolitan Council advocates for sufficient transit funds for this system. Though MNDOT houses the office of transit for Greater Minnesota, it has not yet fulfilled the role of advocating for sufficient transit funds to serve the entire state.

My goal is not to merely engage in the finger pointing and us vs. them antagonism that achieves little. Rather, I offer a solution.

MnDOT is currently engaged in a statewide transit study, which should lay the groundwork for improved transit planning and policy. Commissioner Sorel and his staff have established a positive commitment to serving the entire state and to moving MnDOT beyond a road-and-bridge-only state agency. I encourage MnDOT to assume greater responsibility for public transit planning, service coordination, and funding throughout Greater Minnesota.

Having MnDOT commit to public transit in Greater Minnesota has the additional benefit of counter-balancing Met Council's influence at the Capitol. I do not deny the deep need for transit in the Cities and surrounding areas. But until MnDOT steps up and fulfills its obligation, "you can't get there from here" will continue to ring throughout the rest of Minnesota.

(Rep. Terry Morrow is a DFL Representative serving Minnesota District 23A. He sits on the Transportation and Transit Policy and Oversight Division committee, Transportation Finance and Policy Division committee, State and Local Government Operations Reform, Technology and Elections committee, and Agriculture, Rural Economies and Veterans Affairs committee.)