New report on Twin Cities congestion doesn’t tell half the story

The Minneapolis Star Tribune highlights a report on highway congestion from the Minnesota Department of Transportation:

A report from the Minnesota Department of Transportation out Tuesday found that congestion on metro area highways and freeways jumped by 2 percentage points in 2015, and predicted that roads are likely to get more crowded and slower.

According to the Metropolitan Freeway System Congestion Report, the freeways in the Twin Cities were congested 23.4 percent of the time, up from 21.4 percent in 2014.

The Strib characterizes the reasons for increased congestion this way:

The report attributed the jump to a number of factors, including lower gas prices, a robust economy, population growth and that people are driving more.

This is typical Star Tribune boosterism. The MnDOT report says nothing about a “robust economy.” It says:

Many factors affect congestion levels such as the local economy, population growth, gas prices, transit ridership and vehicle miles traveled (VMT).


The anticipated trend of increased VMT and increasing costs along with improving economic conditions are expected to cause congestion to grow in the future.

But back to the main point: congestion. MnDOT measures congestion each October, using that month as a baseline. Why? It hasn’t snowed yet and, the report says, “most summer road projects are completed.” During the summer–i.e., now–congestion on Twin Cities highways is vastly worse than MnDOT measures in October. Currently, the congestion is the worst I have ever seen. Twin Cities drivers know that it is difficult to get anywhere, because of ubiquitous highway repairs.


A local country music station is running an ad that says something like, “I don’t mind being stuck in traffic because I’m listening to K___!” Well, the rest of us mind, and that young lady should, too. The problem with highway projects in the Twin Cities is that they rarely result in increased highway capacity. That is by design. MnDOT, the Metropolitan Council and the Dayton administration are trying to force us all into mass transit or onto bicycles, as outlined in the Met Council’s “Thrive MSP 2040” plan, and have no interest in building more highway lanes.

Local authorities freely admit that they are not trying to reduce highway congestion, even though that is what nearly all Minnesotans want, and even though the recent MnDOT report acknowledges that “[m]itigating congestion is critical to the traveling public.” However, “MnDOT has limited resources to slow projected increases in congestion.” Why is that? Because our transportation dollars are going to uneconomic trains, bike paths and bridges to nowhere.

The Met Council says our choice is between intolerable congestion and the mass transit that few of us want to rely on:

The news points out the need to beef up public transportation, said Met Council Chair Adam Duinick.

“It’s no surprise to see congestion on our highways is increasing,” he said. “We know our region is growing. By 2040, we’re expecting an additional 750,000 people to live in the region. It’s not practical to build more highways – without an expansion of our regional transit system, our roadways will only continue to get more congested.”

Of course it is possible to build more highways. Maintaining an underdesigned highway system is a political choice, not a fact of nature. Experience shows that building more lanes does reduce congestion. The problem isn’t that we can’t build highways. The problem is that the bureaucrats who run Minnesota don’t want to make it easier for us to drive on the highways, they want to make it harder, so that we will be forced to fund multibillion dollar train boondoggles and endless bicycle paths. This is a political problem with a political solution.