transportation


It started with a GOP-slanted article attacking Representative Al Doty’s support of the gas tax.  The article appeared in the View Point section of the Morrison County Record, but had no author attributed to it.  The Record’s policy states that it won’t accept unidentified opinion pieces.  From there, we got an explanation and an apology from the paper’s editor and general manager Tom West.  Turns out he had edited a press release submitted by the county Republicans.*

This week, in the Morrison County Record, we get Al Doty’s take on the situation with his letter to the editor.  We’ll let his letter speak for itself.

The water’s getting clearer,

Phineas F. A. Pickerel

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*P.S.  I’ve only linked to Al Doty’s letter here, rather than to the other stories, which are linked in this post on Fish Wrap.  There’s a reason for that.

When you hover over stories we have linked to that appeared in the Morrison County Record, the SnapShots window comes up with a little message.  It says, “Accessed Denied – We are sorry to inform you that your IP address has been blocked from this site due to possible malicious behavior.  Your IP address has been tracked visiting one or more websites and requesting content too frequently.  The number of . . . . ”  That’s where the message cuts off.

I can’t explain why the message is popping up, except that there must be some sort of blogging rule I missed about linking back to a news source too frequently and making commentary on it.  You’ll have to determine whether my commentary has indeed been malicious.  If you disagree with my views, you’ll probably think I’ve been malicious.  If you agree, you’ll likely not label me in that way.  Interesting how there are subtle ways to squelch free speech.

Even though the message is popping up, you should still be able to link through to the stories.

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Because I brought it up last week and the discussion continues in this week’s Morrison County Record, let’s talk about the gas tax again, shall we? In last week’s Record, there were several items opposing the gas tax. In this week’s Record (March 9, 2008), there are several items in support of the gas tax, plus one that yammers on about fiscal responsibility by not instituting any new taxes.

Let’s start by listing the articles that support the gas tax.

Maintenance costs have outstripped highway revenues – a Guest Editorial by Steve Backowski, the Morrison County engineer and public works director. This article gives a nice background about exactly where our transportation dollars go and how the costs of maintaining roads and bridges have continued to rise, while the revenue for these costs has fallen. While Steve doesn’t directly refer to the new gas tax, it’s obvious from the tone of the letter that he supports bringing new funding into the state’s transportation system.

All will benefit from the increase – a Letter to the Editor by Gary Gannon of Randall. This is a general letter listing some of the benefits of having a gas tax and mentions that there will be a $25 tax credit to offset the costs of the gas tax for low income families in the state.

It really means ‘know new taxes’ – a Letter to the Editor by Leif Johnson of Burtrum. This letter in support of the gas tax takes a slightly different twist. Leif mentions that we don’t complain when the price of gas rises “whenever Bush’s buddies in the oil companies decide to pad their record profits. Yet, we scream at 7 1/2 cents when it’s a tax.” He explains in his letter how the Pawlenty administration has pushed taxes onto local governments in order to keep his “no new taxes” pledge. He also lambastes the Republican party for removing the six Republicans from their “leadership positions on committees for daring to cross the governor” and suggests that Pawlenty might make a good dictator in Iraq. Yeah, about that removal of Republicans from their committees – what are the Republicans trying to prove? That they’re tough? That they won’t tolerate disagreement or someone breaking party ranks? Wasn’t it the Republican party that was all for individual freedom? I guess not. What the Republicans better wake up and realize is that such punitive actions will eventually backfire on them. Give it time. Squash people long enough and they are bound to rise up and fight back.

Let’s clear up inaccuracies about state transportation bill – an article by Guest Columnist Al Doty, the State Representative of District 12B. I’d love to give you a link to this article, but the Record didn’t see fit to put it online. It’s not for lack of looking that I couldn’t find it. I searched the links for Headlines, News, Viewpoint (and all subheadings), and Government. I even did a search for Al Doty’s name. Nothing. I just don’t get this.

Meanwhile, the strange little unsigned editorial from the Republican party attacking Doty in last week’s paper made it online. In fact, I found it when I was searching Doty’s name. Funny that the Record’s policy is not to accept an unsigned editorial, but the local GOP had been given a pass on this requirement. Sharp-eyed reader Marge Young of Little Falls caught onto this same issue and submitted her Letter to the Editor about it, asking “What was that? ” in reference to the article.

Because Doty’s well-written article concerning the gas tax isn’t online, I shall have to give you a summary. Doty is concerned with clearing up inaccuracies that have been circulating concerning the bill. He said, “It’s been 20 years since we’ve had a comprehensive funding package for our roads and bridges.” Meanwhile, the roads and bridges continue to deteriorate, along with the Minnesota Department of Transportation’s (MnDOT) budget. Because the state’s revenue is no longer fully covering transportation expenses, local property taxes have been used to fill in the gaps.

Doty explains how “the debt on MnDOT’s trunk highway fund has grown by 650 percent” within the past five years because the state has chosen to keep borrowing money for transportation instead of finding ways to raise the revenue to fund it. He gives figures for how much the gas tax will cost the average Minnesotan per year and then explains how not maintaining our roads eventually costs us more than the tax in the long run because it takes longer to deliver goods and services over bad roads. He says that the gas tax “will bring an additional $12 million into Morrison County over the next 10 years and Little Falls will receive an additional $1.2 million to fix local streets.”

Perhaps my favorite line in the whole article is this one: “I have said in the past that while I know people in my district don’t enjoy paying more taxes, they know enough to fix a leaky roof before it ruins their whole house.”

I absolutely agree with Doty on this, which is why I wasn’t pleased with Representative Sondra Erickson’s article called A return to fiscal responsibility needed. Like Doty’s article, this one doesn’t appear online at the Record’s website either. (Once again, what’s up with that?)

Erickson goes into the usual Republican rant about “the overspending Democrats and the fact they kicked off this session with the largest tax increase in modern Minnesota history.” She wants “a return to that common-sense style of bookkeeping . . . in order to get us back on firm financial ground.” She blames “excessive taxing and spending” for our deficit, which “is predicted to rise by $562 million.” I’m not sure where Erickson has been hiding, because she has to be pretty familiar with Governor Pawlenty’s refusal to raise taxes to pay for anything. Instead, he keeps raiding the tobacco settlement and foisting expenses off on county and city governments. Oh, and then he raises “fees” on government services. If a fee isn’t a tax, I don’t know what is.

The point Erickson and the rest of the Republicans seem to be missing is that you can’t spend what you don’t have and the traditional way the government has of raising revenue is through taxes. Borrowing money that our children and our children’s children will have to pay back, which is the favorite maneuver of the Credit Card Conservatives, is not going to work forever. The Dems understand fiscal responsibility with their pay-as-you-go philosophy.

In case you missed it, I support the gas tax because it’s our fiscal responsibility to support the government services we desire.

Paying for the seaweed I consume,

Phineas F. A. Pickerel

Al Franken made a campaign stop in Little Falls, Minnesota, today.  Our special Fish Wrap correspondent Black Molly was on the scene to get the story.  Here is her report.

P.F.A.P.

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Al Franken in Little Falls, MN  Fish Wrap card with Al Franken’s signature 

Photo on the left:  Al Franken greeting voters at the Royal Cafe in Little Falls, MN.  The woman seated facing the camera is Cathy Adamek.

Photo on the right:  An official Fish Wrap postcard signed by Al Franken.

Click on photos for a larger view.

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Let me say right out of the starting gate that Al Franken is punctual.  His website said that he would be in Little Falls, MN, at the Royal Cafe at 11:30 p.m. and, by golly, he was.  Al is running as a Democratic candidate for a seat in the U.S. Senate.  He greeted sixty-plus Morrison County residents personally at today’s event – literally.  As soon as he arrived, he systematically made his way around the room and shook hands with each person.  Even looked us in the eye, he did.

Once Al was through with hand-shaking, Bob Keeton, chair of the Morrison County DFL, formally introduced Al to the crowd.  When Al started speaking, the room was a-hush with people hanging on every word.  Al started his speech by talking about Mrs. Molin, his 4th grade teacher who has appeared in one of his television ads.  He said that the ad has gone viral, with people calling campaign headquarters trying to find her.  He told those assembled, “If Mrs. Molin plays her cards right, she’ll be a very wealthy woman,” because of the ad.

Al then proceeded to state his beliefs and the things he’ll work to accomplish when he becomes the next U.S. Senator from Minnesota.  (Notice that I didn’t use the word “if.”  This guy’s going all the way.)  He did this in a refreshingly concise, clear, and logical manner, covering a lot of issues in a fairly short time, and throwing in his signature satire to boot.  (I’m playing straight-man here because there’s not a chance in H-E-double hockey sticks that I’ll be able to communicate his humor.)

Al believes that No Child Left Behind and the large sizes of classes in schools have prevented teachers from teaching.  He wants to emphasize education during his time in the Senate because he believes a good education will allow us to compete in the global economy and help us to solve sticky societal problems.  He also wants to work on making college affordable again, saying that Pell grants used to cover 86% of the cost of a college education, whereas today, Pell grants only cover around 40%.

He said that if you want to pull yourself up by your bootstraps, “First you’ve got to have the boots.”  Government should assist people in getting those boots.

Al believes in the Second Amendment – the right to bear arms – which is a huge issue in Morrison County.

He wants to work for universal health care and cited these statistics from the World Health Organization:  The United States is ranked 37th among the nations of the world for the quality of our health care system and dead last for preventative medicine.  We can do better than that.

Al discussed how the current White House administration has been anti-science.  He will work to pass a law that states that the administration can’t change scientific reports without first getting the approval of scientists.  This topic morphed into a discussion on global warming, alternative energy sources, and green transportation.  Al believes in wind turbines, rail all over the state and electric cars.

Al is anti-torture and anti-invading-other-countries-for-no-good-reason.  He’s for our constitutional rights.

He wants us out of Iraq, but he wants us out in a thoughtful and responsible way.  He wants our foreign policy to be proactive and based on diplomacy.

Al said that this election, this period of time, is our Sputnik moment – a moment of truth in which we can turn this country around, undo what the current administration has done, and move on to better things.  He wants the United States to be the greatest country in the world once again.

I think Al Franken is well on his way to that goal.  After having lived with continually decreasing amounts of hope over this last seven or so years, Al Franken has given me something to be hopeful about again.   For that, he’s getting my vote.  (The punctuality doesn’t hurt either.)

Your Fish Wrap Correspondent,

Black Molly

The folks at the Morrison County Record are demanding change.  Someone at the newspaper has a lead foot and wants to put it to use.  In the Our View section of this week’s paper, the lead footed make a case for increasing the speed limit on Haven Road.

Haven Road, for those of you unfamiliar with Little Falls, is actually a continuation of First Street Northeast, one of the main roads through downtown.  The road becomes Haven as soon as one crosses the railroad tracks on the north end of town, very near City Hall.  This road was widened and repaved this past summer.  Now that it has been improved, the Record notes that “the new design of that stretch invites people to speed up, and most people drive between 35 and 40 mph.”  The Record continues with the following:

“That being the case, we believe that the speed limit should be increased to 40 mph east of the railroad tracks.  To leave it at 30 mph is to invite disrespect for the law, which is never a good thing.”

Let’s get this straight.  The Record is arguing that the speed limit should be increased on this stretch of road because people are already going over the speed limit and we don’t want them to disrespect the law.  Are you serious?  [Phineas continues reading.]  I guess so, because toward the end of the article, the Record states, “Laws need to be reasonable and fit the norms of public behavior.”  Well, that’s interesting.  Have you noticed that no matter where the speed limit is increased, people have a tendency to go five to ten miles per hour over the posted limit?  The Interstate has a speed limit of 70 mph, but people regularly go 75 to 80.  Just because something seems to be a public norm, it doesn’t mean that we should automatically give in to that norm.  If you jack the speed limit on Haven Road up to 40 mph through this area, it’s a guarantee that people will speed up to 45 or 50.

Let’s set aside the argument that we should increase the speed limit on Haven Road because everyone is driving that speed anyway and examine the situation from a different perspective.  My Fish Wrap colleague Suckerlip Blenny and I took a little drive on Haven Road to check things out.   We wanted to figure out why the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MNDOT) thought it would be appropriate to set the speed limit at 30 mph through this stretch.

As we drove over the tracks, we hit the mileage counter to see how long the stretch in question was.  We were looking to see when the speed limit changed.  From the track to just past 13th Avenue Northeast, the speed limit was 30 mph.  Once past 13th Avenue Northeast, a speed limit sign indicated an increase to 45 mph.  The distance between the tracks and the 45 mph sign was approximately half a mile.  Between the tracks and the 45 mph speed limit sign, we noted that we moved from a residential area into a business area.  There are new apartment buildings in this stretch along the river.  There is a Casey’s gas station, Charlie’s Pizza, Dairy Queen (which is getting a full face-lift), and the Crestliner boat manufacturing plant.

Is it possible that MNDOT looked at these businesses and figured that with all the traffic coming and going, the wisest decision was to keep the speed limit at 30 mph?  Have you noticed all the kids that frequent the Dairy Queen in the summer?  How about all those cars streaming out of Crestliner, off of 13th Avenue Northeast, when the shift changes?  Having driven through this stretch myself during busy times of the day, I think MNDOT made the right decision.

But, Suckerlip Blenny and I weren’t done yet.  It was time to strain our brains with MATH.  What kind of time might people save if the speed limit increased from 30 mph to 40 mph for this half-mile stretch?  It takes 2 minutes to travel one mile driving 30 mph.  It takes 1.5 minutes to travel a mile driving at 40 mph.  Divide those minutes in half to get the time it takes to travel a half-mile.  It takes one minute to travel a half-mile going at 30.  It takes 45 seconds to travel a half-mile at 40 mph.  The difference between those amounts is the time you would save by speeding up – a mere 15 seconds.  If anyone enters Haven Road from 13th Avenue Northeast in front of you, you’re going to have to slow down, which will eat up those 15 seconds.

If you haven’t got 15 seconds to spare in a day, you need to torch up some incense and schedule a weekend at a Zen center for some meditation and introspection, ’cause your life is just waaaaay too busy.

Glub, glub, ohmmmmmmmm . . . .

Phineas F. A. Pickerel

Why is it that in the winter, when the tires on our cars are most likely to lose air pressure due to the cold air, that the gas stations decide to remove their air hoses?  Yeah, yeah, I know.  The metal tips tend to get frozen and not work quite right, but really, haven’t we become technologically advanced enough to figure this out?

If you need air, the one place I’ve found that still has the hose out is the east-side Holiday station in Little Falls, the one that used to be a Conoco.  By “east-side” I mean the eastern-most one.  The two Holiday stations in Little Falls are only a couple of blocks apart on Highway 27, one on either side of the Highway 10 bridge.  Use the bridge as your factor in determining east and west for the Holiday stations.

Gasping for air,

Phineas F. A. Pickerel

Driving around Little Falls today, I was trying to be an observant nosy parker.  Here’s what I noticed:

A new business has moved into the old Ring’s Liquor building.  According to the sign, it’s Preferred Choice Chiropractic.  It appears to be in one side of the building – no hint of what’s going in next door, yet.

Several businesses are for sale.  Zoomski’s and the Whiskey River Saloon.  Pap’s Sport Shop has been for sale for a while now.

There are red boxes in the parking lot at the Super Wal-Mart.  I’ve written about the red boxes before and they seem to be multiplying.

And, finally, what’s up with the stop light on the west side of town next to the Royal Cafe?  The thing beeps like the wheel on Wheel of Fortune – only really slowly.  It’s so loud, you can hear it from a block away.  I have never heard any other stop light beep like this.  It’s been this way for months now.  Somebody fix it, please!

Swimming for leads,

Phineas F. A. Pickerel

Sometimes you’ve got to look more than once to find an interesting tidbit in the Morrison County Record. On first glance, I missed the full article on the meeting of elected officials called together by Little Falls Mayor Cathy VanRisseghem in the October 28, 2007, issue of the paper. When I flipped back to reread it, I noticed there was quite the discussion of the Northstar Corridor, a population/transportation corridor that runs from the Twin Cities north along the Mississippi River. The corridor is expected to see a population explosion of an extra 200,000 people by 2025.

In order to ease traffic congestion along the corridor, a commuter train has been proposed, with the first leg running from Big Lake to the Twin Cities and a potential second leg running from Rice/St. Cloud down to Big Lake. The Big Lake section is already under construction, with work being done on a Minneapolis Light Rail Transit connection and a Vehicle Maintenance Facility in Big Lake. This portion of the commuter rail is due to be completed by late 2009.

There are many people in Morrison County who would like to see it run up here as far as Camp Ripley. Carol Anderson, director of Morrison County Community Development, is all for it, according to the Record article. You go, girl!

In the same article, Randy Winscher of Royalton argues, “The big problem evolves around the fact that people are hauling boats, campers and 4-wheelers. Northstar won’t help that.” He’s right. Sorry to say, but you won’t be able to load your boat, camper or 4-wheeler onto the train. You will, however, be able to bring your bicycle. Here’s the point Randy might be missing. If we can get all the non-boat, non-camper and non-4-wheeler toting vehicles off the road, we might have more room for all of the heavy equipment toters.

A thought that wasn’t expressed in the article was that the Northstar Commuter train would make long-distance travel available to people who don’t own cars. I know several people who live along the corridor who are in this situation and they have great difficulty arranging for rides to other cities along the route. It makes me wonder if this particular population was overlooked when they were crunching the projected ridership numbers for the Hiawatha Light Rail line in the Twin Cities. Ridership exceeded expectations beyond anyone’s wildest dreams. In fact, as of 2005, ridership had exceeded those expectations by 58.2 percent, according to the Metropolitan Council’s Annual Report.

As one of those unexpected riders (albeit I do own a car), I love the Hiawatha line and have taken it numerous times into downtown Minneapolis so that I can avoid traffic congestion that occurs after events. It’s a breeze to ride and eliminates the headaches of finding your way through the maze of one-way (or is that two-way?) streets of Minneapolis. Parking is easier as well, although, if we had a commuter train available from Little Falls to the Twin Cities, we wouldn’t have to worry about parking at all. We could leave the car home.

Frances “Babe” Brisk wasn’t too thrilled about the thought of that traffic becoming two-way. According to the Record article, she said, “Yes, and Mr. and Mrs. Twin Cities then want to change how we live.” Too late! Unfortunately, Mr. and Mrs. Twin Cities have already changed the way we live by building their McMansions all around our lake shores. They’ve brought the boat, camper and 4-wheeler traffic mentioned by Mr. Winscher. We’re already dealing with the effects of the population boom along the corridor. We may as well get something good out of the deal, like the ability to travel easily along the corridor for shopping, health care, and employment opportunities. Maybe with the commuter rail we can encourage Mr. and Mrs. Twin Cities to assist us in producing more higher-paying job opportunities in the central and northern parts of the state.

When it comes to the Northstar Commuter Rail, I’m all for it.

For more information, check out the Northstar Commuter Rail website.

Itching for a speedy swim,

Phineas F. A. Pickerel

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