The government’s war on commuters

American Experiment: Clogged roadways are the calculated consequence of policies to drive people to mass transit

Twin Cities commuters who are furious at perpetual traffic delays might be surprised that a new era of transit-friendly transportation policies actually promote congestion, in order to encourage greater use of mass transit.

Center of the American Experiment in June launched a campaign to reveal that increased congestion on Twin Cities roadways is the intentional outcome of a dramatic shift in the state’s transportation policies. At a Capitol press conference, the Center released Twin Cities Traffic Congestion: It’s No Accident, a 24-page report that reveals how the Minnesota Department of Transportation and the Metropolitan Council are conspiring on a long-term policy agenda that will use traffic congestion to push people to use mass transit. The report was written for the Center by Randal O’Toole, a scholar at the Cato Institute, and a nationally recognized expert on transportation policy.

The Center used the same press conference to unveil how it is using billboards and radio advertising—including commercially-sponsored traffic reports— to expose the situation to Minnesotans.

“Congested traffic isn’t just a fact of life, it’s a scandal,” said John Hinderaker, the Center’s president.

No Accident confirms that traffic is not a figment of commuters’ imaginations. MnDOT reports that congestion rose to a record level in 2015 (the most recent data available). Another analysis revealed that Twin Cities drivers today waste 47 hours per year stuck in traffic, almost four times more than in 1982. Altogether, the cost of wasted time, wasted fuel and increased pollution from commuters, delivery drivers and others stuck in traffic tie-ups totals nearly $4 billion a year, more than MnDOT’s $3.4 billion 2016 budget.

No Accident reports that transportation policies shifted dramatically when Mark Dayton became governor in 2011. Since then, the agency’s own public documents declare that its priorities shifted “from reducing congestion toward providing alternatives to congested travel.” And their spending priorities support this: In 2009, the agency devoted 7 percent of funding to congestion relief, which plummeted to just 1.1 percent in their 2017 plan.

The Met Council’s 2040 transportation plan calls for spending $31.2 billion on transit and $52.7 billion on roads, meaning, O’Toole said, “that 37 percent of transportation spending would go to a form of travel that carries less than 1.5 percent of passenger miles.” Worse yet, MnDOT proposes to spend $700 million on bike and pedestrian infrastructure over the next 20 years and only $265 million on mobility improvements for cars.

Center of the American Experiment first alerted Minnesota policymakers to this problem in its Minnesota Policy Blueprint in 2014, with a chapter entitled “Met Council Power Grab: How the Dayton Administration Intends to Transform the Twin Cities Region for Decades to Come,” by senior policy fellows Katherine Kersten and Kim Crockett. They followed this up with a series of town meetings with legislators.

“Why do we have this congestion mess? Because there are unelected, unaccountable liberals implementing an ideology at our expense,” Hinderaker said. “All we want is government to serve the people’s needs.”

“This is a classic example of a problem that is government caused,” he added. “It gives people an opportunity to understand the difference between liberalism and conservatism. Liberals have a vision about how they want the rest of us to live, only it doesn’t happen to be the way most of us want to live.”

Hinderaker said the reaction to the Center’s report has been “unbelievable.” The Star Tribune, for example, devoted a full page of letters-to-the-editor in response to his op-ed on the topic.

On top of that, some 300 people a day are visiting the Center’s website, spending an average of five minutes. “They are obviously reading the fact sheet carefully,” he said.

“We’ve received angry emails from transit liberals around the country, but it’s been mainly positive,” Hinderaker said. “Everybody knows traffic is bad. What most people don’t understand is that it doesn’t have to be that way.”