Suburban lawmakers are howling about obstructionism, and Gov. Pawlenty even took time out at the State Fair to engage in a radio harangue.
All because the Minneapolis City Council wants to expand I-35W into Downtown.
You read that right -- expand.
The Council and Mayor R.T. Rybak are withholding city approval for a Crosstown Commons project that would add several strands of spaghetti to the I-35W junction (and perhaps prevent meatballs from slowing traffic).
City leaders say they'll OK Crosstown expansion if the state completes a dedicated I-35W transit lane from Lakeville to Downtown, and funds something better than today's flickering express-bus service.
As soon as the Council's position hit the news, state transportation officials, suburban legislators and even our fresh-faced guv rushed to play up parochial fears: The city was consigning suburbanites to extra months, maybe years, of unnecessary idling. Construction costs would rise! Economies would fall!
Lost in the place-hate was the truth. Either the Crosstown process includes time to negotiate disagreements -- or "municipal consent" is a sham that only allows a "yes."
As it turns out, even Crosstown Project Manager John Griffith said there is enough time to arbitrate the issues without delaying the 2006 letting of contracts. There's even enough time for the 2005 Legislature to act on any city-driven transit improvements. The only thing that could delay construction is if the Legislature doesn't act and city or some ally sues -- but no one's threatened that yet.
OK, so that's not obstructionist. But what about the Council's conditions?
The Crosstown/I-35W design does include a lane for multipassenger vehicles and buses. However, it stops (if you're going north) at South 42nd Street -- where all those carpoolers and buses will careen back into the current layout.
That means more congestion and pollution for South Minneapolis -- and continued bottlenecks for Downtown commuters, albeit a few blocks further north.
Understandably, the Council wants better.
Here's where it gets weird and interesting. The Council wants the Legislature to fund a new I-35W bus/carpool lane between 42nd Street and Downtown. This would allow express buses from Lakeville to scream all the way into the city's core.
That's on the state's wish list, but not its 10-year transportation budget. Essentially, the city is demanding the Legislature put its money where its plan is.
And for good measure, the Council wants the state to commit to fund more frequent I-35W bus service to reduce single-car pollution and congestion, so the highway carry more suburbanites and urbanites.
As the Star Tribune editorial page noted, the city is doing what the state should: showing leadership to create a functioning system for cars and mass transit. Sure, the cost will put Pawlenty between a rock and a tax place -- but the guv's taxophobic transit-improvement game is almost up anyway.
It isn't suburbanites who should be screaming -- it's city highwayphobes, who may not realize that a spoonful of buses could make another highway lane go down.
That's an issue we can hash out here in town; as for commuters, the Council is giving them more than their leaders' recent behavior deserves.
David Brauer edits Skyway News.