Recommendations to Minnesota Legislature on Transport

I presented to a committee of the Minnesota Legislature earlier today. These are the bullet points from the key policy recommendations:


  • The value (benefits – costs) of preserving existing links is generally far greater than the value of new links, especially new links serving future (speculative) development (development-oriented transportation).

Reduce & Reuse

  • Most roads are under-used most of the time. There is ample capacity outside the peak.
  • Most of the pavement is unused even at peak times; there are large gaps between vehicles both in terms of the headway between vehicles and the lateral spacing between vehicles. Americans drive 6 foot wide cars in 12 foot lanes, often on highways with wide shoulders.
  • Most seats in most cars are unoccupied most of the time.
  • Most cars contain far more weight than required to safely move the passenger. While bigger cars might be safer for the occupants, they are less safe for non-occupants. This is an inefficient arms race.
  • Many roads are so wide we use them for storage of vehicles most of the day.
  • There is excessive delay at traffic lights, especially during off-peak periods, wasting time and space.
  • Smoothing and spreading demand brings peak travel times closer to freeflow times, and thus raises accessibility.

POLICY IMPLICATION: Increased throughput per square meter of pavement due to Vehicle Automation (along with flattened demand) indicates fewer square meters of pavement are required.

Make investments that have high rate of return.

  • The more benefits per $ spent, the more things that can be built.
  • Explicitly consider Benefits and Costs when making investments. This is hard since this requires forecasts of the future, which is changing.
  • Focus on projects that most effectively expand accessibility for all, (efficiency), or for those with fewer opportunities (equity).

Make investments that are flexible and adaptable.

  • The next 50 years are going to see far more change than the past 50 years in transportation.
  • Locking into investments serving today’s (yesterday’s) needs will lead to future stranded investments and fewer resources to improve accessibility tomorrow.

Allow local governments more autonomy in funding transit with their own money

  • If a Minnesota City or County wants to tax itself to pay for something that is locally beneficial, this is nobody else’s problem.
  • Let a thousand flowers (or at least 87) bloom.

Accelerate the End of Congestion (and fund roads) via Pricing

Today’s Minnesota gas tax does not:

  • address congestion, which requires time of day differentiation.  Traffic congestion is a problem. It is not getting measurably worse over the past decade, but it is not getting obviously better. Even if traffic reduces in the aggregate, it won’t disappear to zero in the next decade.  Congestion reduces accessibility.
  • recover pavement damage from heavy vehicles.
  • raise revenue from vehicles that do not use gasoline for fuel.
  • pay for crashes, which are borne individually through worsened health and life outcomes, and socially through the health care system.
  • pay for the full cost of pollution (which is offloaded to the health sector).
  • pay for local roads (which are paid for by property taxes mostly).
  • account for rising fuel efficiency.
  • account for cost inflation in the road sector.


  • Fix the Gas Tax
    • Replace the local property tax share and other state and local general revenue (so-called dedicated revenue) like Motor Vehicle Sales Tax with a user fee.
    • This means a Higher Gas/Diesel Tax (User Fee) for Gasoline/Diesel powered cars and trucks and Lower Property Taxes.
    • Return the new revenue back to local governments.
    • Impose a Distance/Time-based Fee for Electric Vehicles
  • Phase in a Replacement.
    • EVs don’t pay gas tax, yet use roads.
    • Retaining the highway user fee principle requires charging EVs once a sufficient number make it relevant.
    • Vary vehicle mileage charge for EVs and opt-ins (and eventually all vehicles) by location and time-of-day.
    • As more and more users drive EVs, this becomes the standard over time, without riots in your districts.



Update: The audio of the Presentation and the slides are now available:


Wednesday, February 8, 2017
Met at: 1:00 PM
Presentation by Professor David Levinson
University of Minnesota
The Future of Transport and Directions for Minnesota Policy

Presentation by Randal O’Toole
Senior Fellow, CATO Institute
LRT and Long-Term Planning Concerns in the Twin Cities Region