Taming TIGER’s critics in Northfield

TIGER trail project map

“The elephant in the room when discussing Northfield…is always TH3. Everything I love about Northfield stands in complete opposition to TH3, which seems to only distract from the Northfield experience” commented Rueben Collins of VeloTraffic in response to Northfield on streets.mn.  These days, that elephant is making a great deal of noise in the Council chambers as the City Council continues to discuss the trail project under the highway funded in part by a federal TIGER grant.

A majority of the Council shares the view that TH3, which bisects Northfield from north to south, is not only an often unacknowledged elephant in the room, but an elephant-sized barrier discouraging pedestrian and bicycle traffic from east to west and vice versa.

The remainder the Council, including the Mayor, is ignoring the elephant and using the cost of the TIGER project (it costs “too much”) and, tonight, attempting some very dubious tactics to try to kill it dead (by a Council member trying to claim a Federal grant is a “gift” thus subject to different procedural rules – money allocated by Congress to advance certain policy objectives – economic recovery + transportation policy in TIGER’s case – which distributed by a highly competitive process and require local funds is not a “gift” – cities apply for and receive multiple public grants, none of which has been considered a gift)

The elephant, I think, is not TH3 itself.  The elephant is the how transportation issues are framed in discussions like the ones happening in Northfield, around Minnesota and everywhere else I’ve explored. People who want to improve the policy and infrastructure for non-car transportation list all the benefits: access, social equity, safety, economic development, environmental benefits, public health, cost, quality of life…all of these are bigger picture benefits are realized over a longer term and broader audience than the usual immediate objection: how much does this TIGER project cost?

So, streets.mn readers, help the Council out.  How can we find some common ground which acknowledges that infrastructure of all kinds costs a great deal of money, but this cost can be justified by the longer term benefits?

Consider Northfield’s situation:

  • Policy backdrop: Over the last decade or so, Northfield policy-makers have listened to citizens and citizen groups and worked to put policies in place to help guide Northfield toward a more walkable, bikeable, connected community while also ensuring the street network works well for commuting and commerce by car. Northfield’s Comprehensive PlanTransportation PlanSafe Routes to School planComplete Streets policyStreetscape Framework Plan, and Gateway Corridor plan identify both broad goals and specific projects for improving all modes of transportation in Northfield.
  • Northfield’s TIGER grant ProjectThe TIGER trail project grew out of the Northfield Modal Integration Study Report (which was itself recommended by the Transportation Plan)
  • Intended aims (from the grant application) – In Northfield, the Cannon River and the more or less parallel TH3 form a significant rift through the middle of town.  The intended goals of the project are enhanced economic competitiveness from improving the transportation system, safety, livability, sustainability, reuse of existing infrastructure, part of long-term implementation of policy goals, and collaboration with state, federal and local government plus Northfield’s colleges, citizens, and non-profits.

    TH3 at 2nd Street looking north

    TH3 at 2nd Street looking north

  • Cost: The original grant award provided $1.1 million in TIGER grant funds plus a $500,000 contribution from the City.  Additional design and engineering costs put the price tag about $800,000 higher.  MNDoT, recognizing the impact of “their” trunk highway, has agreed to contribute about 80% toward the overrun.At the September 17 Council meeting, the Mayor asked Councilmember Zweifel how much she’d be willing to pay for this project.  Let me throw this ball into the ballpark: how about the cost of a typical street project?  Each year, the City spends roughly $1 million dollars on each street repair/reconstruction. When you consider the amount spent on streets which have made walking and cycling more difficult, committing the amount of a single project to retrofit the system is a place to start.  I’d make this in addition to the funds provided by the Federal grant and the MN Department of Transportation to reflect the importance of the issue as recognized by the fed/state policies and the significance of the obstacle.  Debate.


Betsey Buckheit

About Betsey Buckheit

Betsey rides her pretty blue city bike, walks her energetic black dogs, and agitates for more thoughtful, long-range decision-making in Northfield, MN. You can follow her blog at BetseyBuckheit.com.