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Fixing Transportation in 2015 Advances Equity for All



The Jay and Rose Phillips Foundation of Minnesota’s funding priorities include transportation and making sure people with low incomes have access to jobs and opportunity. The Foundation supports the work of the MOVE MN Coalition to raise awareness about the urgent need to upgrade and improve transportation systems around the state.

The state’s transit systems are not keeping up with demand. Funding is scarce and highly competitive for pedestrian and bicycle projects that make communities safer and healthier. More than 65 percent of Minnesota roads and 40 percent of bridges will be more than 50 years old by 2025, long surpassing their lifespan. It’s as if every house in the state needed a new roof at roughly the same time.

Nearly 200 organizations strong, Move MN brings together a broad array of constituencies united Move MNbehind the need for action on transportation. For many coalition partners, equity is the reason to be at the table. This past fall, a group of coalition members got together to put the case for equity on paper. The handout, linked here, gathers data and reflects conversations with community groups and individuals. Even as it makes a strong case, it is meant as a basis for further outreach and discussion about the ways transportation affects access to opportunity and the ability to create prosperous lives.

As the 2015 legislative session gets underway, Move MN is focused on a comprehensive, statewide solution. As Kenya McKnight, a coalition member working with Summit Academy OIC, says, “Infrastructure is the commonality between metropolitan and Greater Minnesota communities, and infrastructure is also linked to jobs.”

Transportation projects create jobs and increase access to jobs. For example, the recently-completed Central Corridor construction project employed contractors from all over the state and exceeded its equitable hiring goals, with 19 percent of the workforce being people of color. Future projects, such as Southwest light rail, have workforce goals of 32 percent people of color. According to HIRE Minnesota, as of last August, the contractor on the MnPass project on Interstate 35E had a workforce of 36 percent people of color.

Russ Adams of the Alliance of Metropolitan Stability believes we can generate more jobs by passing a multi-modal, comprehensive and statewide transportation bill in 2015. “This is the kind of catalytic investment that allows metro regions like the Twin Cities to maintain their competitive economic advantage and at the same time focus on closing pernicious racial employment and income gaps.”

For lower wealth individuals, transportation is often the largest household cost, even more than housing. Yet, in the metro, only about 25 percent of households and 15 percent of jobs are served by frequent transit, i.e., service that runs at least every half hour six days a week. The bus system has seen no substantial increase in funding for a decade or more. Safe routes for people walking or on bicycles is also a major issue, given that people of color are far more likely to be struck and killed while walking than non-Hispanic Whites.

Kathy Tomlin, Vice President for Social Justice Research and Policy at Catholic Charities, sums up the fundamental role of transportation. “Access to affordable transit is the difference between a job or no job, quality child care or inadequate piecemeal arrangements, a health care appointment kept or disregarded, and housing stability or homelessness. Too often our clients find themselves isolated and at a distance from the services they require because there isn’t an adequate ‘system’ of transportation that moves people to the destinations that offer greater economic and social stability.”

A recent article in Insight News echoed her point, saying, “Mass transit is an important resource to North Minneapolis residents in particular. According to recent census data, 27% of households in the area do not own a car, compared to 18% of households in Minneapolis as a whole.”

Real improvements in regular route bus service, in the metro and in Greater Minnesota, also will address major issues facing the state, including income inequality and social isolation. People of color make up the fastest-growing segment of our population. Yet, in 2013, 25 percent of people of color in the state lived below the poverty line. The state’s senior population is also growing. In the metro, by 2040, people of color will comprise 40 percent of the population and seniors, 21 percent, according to Metropolitan Council data.

There are plans to expand transit and good evidence that this will bring greater access to jobs and to quality of life. A business group—the Itasca Project—found that building out the Twin Cities system of light rail and bus-rapid-transit lines would create more than 30,000 new construction jobs and lead to Light Railan additional expansion of the regional economy by up to $1.4 billion. Equitable hiring goals set by the state for these public works projects will help many workers of color establish careers in the construction field, and allow more women to enter the trades.

For residents living in the poorest 20 percent of neighborhoods in the region, expanding transit would make an additional 45,000 to 55,000 jobs accessible within a 30-minute transit trip, according to a University of Minnesota report.

“Transit access is an issue in the metro and around the state,” said Barb Thoman of Transit for Livable communities.” There are transit systems in most counties but they operate very limited schedules and routes. “Lack of transit options affects the ability of lower income residents to get to jobs and of seniors to remain in their homes and get to doctor’s appointments, shopping, and stay in contact with others,” Thoman said. In the state’s many college towns—Duluth, St. Cloud, Mankato–students look to transit and bicycling and walking as ways to save money at a time when college costs are high. More than 60 percent of Greater Minnesota transit users have household incomes of $20,000 or less and more than 50 percent do not have a driver’s license. While demand is increasing, inadequate funding is the biggest challenge faced by 94% of Greater Minnesota transit providers.

While Minnesota leads the nation in job growth and many other indicators of health, too many residents are not included. The opportunity before legislators this session is to make investments that change this. Out-going Metropolitan Council Chair Sue Haigh urged metro residents to “imagine a region where people of color have the same high school graduation rates, employment rates, and homeownership rates as the white population.” She went on to affirm that “eliminating racial disparities could inject nearly $35 billion into our regional economy—investing in equity and opportunity IS investing in regional growth.”

For everyone in the Move MN coalition, 2015 is the time to take action and seize an unprecedented opportunity to foster economic benefit and equitable investment in communities that have suffered greatly during this last recession. Let’s get it done now!


This blog is a collaborative effort of Hilary Reeves, Transit for Livable Communities; Ana Ashby, Catholic Charities; Kenya McKnight, Summit Academy OIC; and Russ Adams and Owen Duckworth of the Alliance for Metropolitan Stability. All are members of the Move MN campaign.

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