'When will bridges and roads be fixed?' citizens ask
By Barb Kucera, Workday editor 12 September 2007
|ST. PAUL - As the Minnesota Legislature went into special session late Tuesday, citizens made a last-ditch effort to urge lawmakers and Gov. Tim Pawlenty to invest in maintaining and improving the state's roads and bridges. Now with video!
|After weeks of haggling, legislative leaders and Pawlenty agreed to hold a one-day special session to aid southeastern Minnesota residents who lost homes and livelihoods in the August floods. But despite public pressure after the Aug. 1 collapse of the I-35W bridge, they postponed any action on transportation.
Outside the Minnesota House and Senate chambers Tuesday, demonstrators held up signs of the damaged bridge and chanted for lawmakers to take action.
At a news conference earlier in the day, members of Teamsters Local 120 – which represents truckers and bus drivers – said the state's infrastructure has been neglected for too long.
"Everyday, I get behind the wheel of an 80,000-pound rig and drive the 150 miles between Coon Rapids and Des Moines," said Pat Walker, who has driven for USF Holland for the past 15 years. "My trip takes me over about six highways and 75 bridges.
"Since the Aug. 1 collapse, I hold my breath every time I go over a bridge. I've also got to deal with deteriorating roads and endless traffic . . . My employer's competitiveness depends on being able to move freight quickly and safely. My family's future depends on me being able to provide for my wife of 35 years and our two beautiful daughters.
"Gov. Pawlenty, Majority Leader Pogemiller and Speaker Anderson Kelliher, my life and my family shouldn't be put at risk because you're not investing in safe roads, bridges and highways."
In addition to the Teamsters and other unions, organizations backing more funding for infrastructure include business groups, trucking associations and local communities facing transportation gridlock.
Minnesota's gas tax, a dedicated fund used exclusively for roads and bridges, has not been raised in nearly 20 years. Shortly after the bridge collapse, Pawlenty said he would reverse his opposition to a gas tax increase and support a nickel boost, but he appears to have backed away from that stance under pressure from conservative groups.
View video from the state Capitol protest to support transportation funding
Howard Kling, videographer