Love thy neighborhood: Green line is a’comin

President Obama announced a $302 billion transportation plan at St. Paul’s Union Depot on Wednesday Feb. 26, making the argument that our infrastructure is crumbling and that current levels of spending do not meet its depreciation rate, President Obama urged Congress to pass a new four-year transportation funding bill and to extend TIGER, a transportation grant competition created in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

Union Depot was specifically chosen for this announcement since its $243 million renovation was funded partially through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. Now completed, the Union Depot will act as the central transportation hub for St. Paul, offering riders access to Metro Transit busses, Megabus.com, Amtrak and the new Green Line.

The Green Line served as an example in Obama’s speech of what government can do when it chooses to fund new transit lines. Obama sees transit not only as a means to get from point A to point B, but also as a way to promote economic development and job access.

The President’s speech comes at a great time as excitement for the new Green Line builds in anticipation of its opening. The Green Line, Union Depot, and other transportation projects for that matter are just the beginning of what is possible when our elected officials choose to fund transportation.

While everyone should be excited for the Green Line to open, Minneapolis-St. Paul still has a long way to go before we can say we have a world-class transportation system. Too many projects are still on the drawing boards, simply because of the lack of available funding.

Yes, many of our governmental entities are cash-strapped, so new sources of funding must be identified as well as an increase in taxes used to fund these projects. Increases in the gas tax, both state and federal, should be considered. Other potential sources of funding include increased tolling on roads and congestion charging in gridlocked city centers. Additionally, planners and engineers must work harder to keep projects on time and under budget. One main criticism of transit projects is that cost-overruns and a failure to meet deadlines create an environment of doubt as to whether these projects are worthy of funding in the first place.

We also must accept the fact that all forms of transit, air, rail, bike and roads must be funded too. It is no doubt that in far too many American cities. The transit system leaves a lot to be desired. So yes, we must fund mass transit lines. But we also must fund our road system as well—maintaining it so that it is safe for both you and I—whether we be in a car, on foot or in a bus.

One final thing to keep in mind: what President Obama spoke of today is a mere proposal. Congress has yet to pass any type of funding bill. That is why you must contact your elected officials and tell them to fund America’s transportation system. Your ability to travel to and from home, your internship, school and work is dependent on it.