Rally calls for road funding

New money for road and transit projects would create jobs, reduce traffic deaths and make Minnesota more competitive, transportation advocates said Thursday.

New money for road and transit projects would create jobs, reduce traffic deaths and make Minnesota more competitive, transportation advocates said Thursday.

State lawmakers and construction industry leaders called for more funding during a Capitol rally, but the loudest call came from U.S. Rep. Jim Oberstar, who leads the U.S. Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.

Oberstar, who represents Minnesota's 8th District, touted state House and Senate efforts to increase funding by raising the gasoline tax and other charges.

The Chisholm Democrat looked out over the crowd outside the Capitol and pointed to construction trucks parked nearby.

"Let's put them to work," Oberstar bellowed. "Governor, sign this bill."


Much of the rally targeted Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty, whose own transportation funding package relies mostly on borrowing and doesn't include tax increases.

In a separate press conference Thursday, Pawlenty reiterated his opposition to raising taxes to fund road and transit projects. The governor told reporters he was largely responsible for the only significant transportation funding increases in about 20 years.

This year, Pawlenty said, transportation advocates and lawmakers must settle for what can be agreed upon.

"I cannot hold out for the idealized notion of the perfect," he said.

But Rick Krueger, executive director of the Minnesota Transportation Alliance, which sponsored the rally, said lawmakers and Pawlenty should see the importance of agreeing to a big increase in funding.

"It firms up the support to let people know there's public interest in this," Krueger, a former Alexandria-area lawmaker, said of the rally.

Minnesota State Patrol Sgt. Curt Thurmes said 559 people died on highways in 2005. Without more investment, he said, Minnesotans will see "continued carnage on our roadways."

That concern prompted Larry Anderson to join fellow northeastern Minnesota union workers at the St. Paul rally. Anderson, of Esko, said he was injured in a car crash 11 years ago.


"We need safe roads everywhere," said Anderson, a business agent for the Duluth-based Laborers Local 1091.

If the hundreds of traffic deaths each year were attributed to another cause, people would be outraged, Sen. Steve Murphy, DFL-Red Wing, said.

But since it happens on Minnesota roadways, "We gloss over it," the Senate transportation budget committee chairman said.

"The time to half-step is over," Murphy said, referring to Pawlenty's smaller transportation budget bill. "We need to move Minnesota forward."

Lawmakers this year passed transportation budget bills the public demands, Rep. Bernie Lieder told rally participants.

The Legislature last increased the gas tax in 1988. Lieder, a Crookston Democrat and House transportation finance committee chairman, said that without final approval of a new funding bill, "it's going to be a long dry spell again."

Transportation spending will improve the economy, said Anderson, the laborer. Increased funding will create construction jobs.

"Gov. Pawlenty should just wake up," Anderson said. "Why would he want to veto a bill both (legislative chambers) will support?"


The state could see 200,000 additional jobs if it would spend more on transportation, Oberstar said.

"What's not to like about making this investment in our future?" he said.

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