With the help of Move Minnesota and the North Star Chapter of the Sierra Club, streets.mn has sent out a transportation and land use questionnaire to candidates running for Hennepin County Board. With a $2.5 annual budget, the County Board is the most important government body that most people don’t know anything about. The upcoming election will shape those decisions — especially around transportation — and we wanted to make sure that voters have good information about the positions of the candidates.
Presented in alphabetical order, here are the answers for the candidates in District 5, which covers the suburbs to the southwest of Minneapolis. (See Questionnaire for District 1 here and for District 6 here.)
Editor’s Note: Part of one of the answers for Boni Njenga was plagiarized without attribution. We have published the responses exactly as we received them, unedited and unverified.
This questionnaire is for candidate and voter information only. Participating organizations will not be making endorsements in any Hennepin County commissioner race in 2020.
1. Climate Change. Climate change is harming and threatens communities in Hennepin County, Minnesota, and across the globe. Transportation is the #1 source of climate change pollution in Minnesota and the nation, and 68% of those emissions in Minnesota come from cars and light trucks. What role should the county plan in addressing these emissions, if any?
Debbie Goettel: Hennepin County’s in-house fleet makes up approximately 8% of the organization’s greenhouse gas emissions. This includes all mobile sources. To address in-house emissions, the county is currently undertaking a study using GPS data from fleet vehicles for analysis of (1) use, (2) type of vehicle, (3) our ability to replace current fleet vehicles with electric vehicles and the infrastructure we need to do that. The county has received Volkswagen grant dollars to install electric charging stations. Right now, several county facilities and libraries now have charging stations. The goal is to keep expanding these to all Hennepin County facilities. Our diesel-powered vehicle meets the highest standards, Tier 4 requirements we currently purchase biodiesel fuel which is an alternative fuel. It is produced from vegetable oil, animal fats and tall and waste cooking oils. The mix is 10% biofuel and 90% petroleum diesel.
Outside of our own operations, we are putting policies in place to guide the entire county’s effort to reduce carbon emissions. In the county approximately one third of emissions for greenhouse gases are from transportation. We have a robust transit plan, investing in transit is a way to lower emissions and moves residence to a more sustainable mode. The county has invested over $1 billion (since 1997) in transit and buses to reduce congestion, lower pollution, and provide alternative transportation options to residents. We have dedicated funding to create bike and pedestrian infrastructure, providing safer, healthier transportation alternatives for residents. The county has been a part of the Metropolitan Council Transportation Advisory Board that has oversight of federal transit dollars for the metropolitan area. I serve on this board with many local officials who help guide investments in regional transit.
Boni Njenga: The Hennepin county government should take the lead, because it is the most populated and the largest by setting a carbon neutrality as soon as feasible not later than 2030. Secondly, having a climate resolution, we will be leading by example to engage local government, NGO, business and universities to create awareness and also identifying courses of action to reduce the effects of climate change in Hennepin county.
By setting our own goals, we as Hennepin county can figure out what solutions fits our community needs and work within our legislative landscape. For example, encouraging electric vehicles, and educating the residents about the federal tax credit of up to $7,500 to get to buy electric cars, also offering incentives.
Lastly, applying for infrastructure grants and tax credit from federal government to build a robust charging-station network, this would attract car owners to own and purchase electric cars.
2. Environmental Justice. Climate change and pollution disproportionately affect Black, Indigenous, and People of Color. How can transportation policy improve equity and address historic imbalances in economic investment and opportunity? What specific transportation or transit efforts would you pursue to achieve this?
Debbie Goettel: Transportation spending for alternative modes other than owning a private car can reduce poverty, reduce environmental impacts, and bring economic growth. Congestion adds to issues of access to education and jobs in the metro region. Owning a car is a big expense not only with the initial dollars to purchase but the ongoing maintenance, insurance, and repair costs. In reviewing all transit decision trough an equity lens, we make a bigger impact on addressing transportation issues for Black, Indigenous and People of Color. The quality of transportation available affects economic and social opportunities. The use of Bus Rapid Transit lines has been a good use of dollars to address this very issue. Along with placement of these lines in areas of higher need and connecting them to job centers school, entertainment, and healthcare. Many of the newer buses are EV to lower the emissions on these lines. this lowers the impact because these bus lines have frequencies of 10 to 15-minute intervals from early morning to early evening.
Transportation planning at the county requires universal design also called
accessible and inclusive design, this means these transportation plans and services accommodate all users including those with special needs. Policies in transportation need to address the distribution of impacts such as fares and fare increases so they are not burdensome to the point that they are not affordable. Hennepin County subsidizes transportation for all 9000 employees and county human services use prepaid transit cards to help those in need. Roads are reconstructed to consider the new normal for rain fall and intense evets. These events propagate flooding in areas that have never seen flooding. The county has set aside matching grant dollars for transit-oriented design to make neighborhood suitable to buses, bus rapid transit, bicycle, and pedestrian traffic. These dollars focus on affordable housing options on or near transit. The county has awarded over 29 million dollars for urban and suburban projects. Funds have assisted projects such as Hiawatha, Central Corridor, Southwest, Bottineau and other high frequency and express bus routes.
Boni Njenga: One, policy makers tend to focus on the role of transportation plays on promoting economic opportunity and social equity. Such as frequency, measure of service quality, geographic coverage etc. 33 percent of African American and Latino 25% lack access to a car.
Research show that access to affordable transportation; automobile or public transportation is very vital to moving out poverty.
As a county, we will never advance equity if we have the same old policies, planning practices and projects that keep widening gaps in access to transportation gap.
Hennepin County should have a pilot program to allow agencies to try different approaches in leveraging new technologies (Uber and lyft), platform and providers.
Engage community members and civic organizations
Decriminalize fare evasion
Use spatial analysis to identify and target transit investments to high-need areas and populations
Support jobs in low income communities and communities of color
3. County Transit Funding. State and city studies show that we will need to reduce driving rates (“vehicle miles traveled”) to reach established emissions-reduction goals. The County’s 0.5% Sales and Use Transportation Tax, has historically been used solely for Light Rail Transit (LRT) and Bus Rapid Transit (BRT). In late 2019 the County Board narrowly voted to open up this critical transit funding source to any road and bridge purpose. What do you see as the appropriate use of this sales tax? What do you see as the role of Hennepin County in funding transit infrastructure?
Debbie Goettel: I did not vote in favor of opening the discussion of using the 0.5% Sales and Use Transit Tax for roads. There is no other dedicated fund for transit. The state has failed to come up with a dedicated funding mechanism. Currently there are great challenges to funding and maintaining our transit system. The county has taken on a significant burden of cost that should be shared with the state to run and maintain the current transit system. My preference is to keep this tax for transit only.
Boni Njenga: As the law allows, the $135Million should be spend on road and bridges projects too, reason being, we do have dilapidated infrastructure that needs maintenance. However, we also need to a campaign and encourage residents to purchase electric vehicles and educate the residents about the federal tax credit of up to $7,500 to get to buy electric cars, and also offering incentives. We also need strong advocacy to new ways of funding new projects like federal matching funds, metro council and state etc.
4. Bottineau/Blue Line Extension. This LRT project was deemed unworkable on its currently-planned route on BNSF right-of-way. There is still substantial interest in a Bottineau project because transportation connects people to social activity, economic opportunity, educational institutions, healthy food, and critical health services. How should this project proceed, if at all? What would you see as a valuable process in the coming months and years, and what would you see as a valuable outcome at the end of your preferred process?
Debbie Goettel: This project will proceed. Bottineau is a line that must happen. It connects some of our most diverse communities, this is an equity line. Current discussion focusses on how to realign the Bottineau to a similar route and move forward with planning. Recall the SWLTR also had many stumbling blocks along the decades of planning and here we are at a full funding agreement from the federal government. We will work to find a path forward, inviting the communities back to the table for input. The process must re-engage all stakeholders and the communities now living in the areas of consideration. Weighting options of alignment against needs and equity.
Boni Njenga: As a resident of Hennepin county, I’m very disappointed and frustrated, after $129 million of our local, county, metro and state funds, we still had not signed an agreement with BNSF. this Is one of the reasons, I’m running to introduce evidence-based policy making, Hennepin county should have had a clear path, policies to foresee this.
We need to revisit our approach to planning any projects by using data and research, so that we don’t have to spend $100 plus, then realizing we don’t have a deal on the table. Blue line extension is still vital for North Minneapolis, first step is to have a meeting with BNSF, community leaders and county staff, how did we not see this.
5. Complete Streets. In 2009 Hennepin County was the first county in Minnesota to adopt its Complete Streets Policy to help make streets safer for everyone. And in 2015 the County Board approved the 2040 Bicycle Transportation Plan. Describe how you would allocate funding for walking, public transportation, and bicycling as part of the county budget. Do you support implementation of Complete Streets? If so, describe how.
Debbie Goettel: The county currently uses the Complete Streets Policy in all reconstruction project if it is feasible. Currently the county funds these capital projects through many different steams of bonding, property taxes, fees, and grants. The transportation sales tax is one of the larger streams currently used for transit and transit improvements.
When a major county road is slated for reconstruction completes streets and bicycle planning and pedestrian safety all a part of the reconstruction process. There are other pockets of dollars to address specific issues around safety and access improvements that are needed on county roads that are not under reconstruction. I support complete streets on all county projects when feasible.
Currently we have updated our scoring criteria for when roads will be reconstructed. This takes the politics out of the equation and allows for transparency. We have bonding limits that are tied to our credit rating and put a cap on that capacity. We do as much as we are able. There is a cost sharing with cities on these major projects. We increased dollars for road safety and bike infrastructure 2 years ago. I supported those increases. Due to the current economic climate my hope is to hold spending where it is at and only deferring a few capital roads projects.
Boni Njenga: Absolutely yes, having an approach that considers and balances the needs of all transportation, goes hand on hand with my vision of introducing evidence-based policy making. We will be able to research, plan, design, build, maintain and operate with data and research. By introducing evidence-based policy making, we will have revenue to fund the county budget and allocate funds to the implementation of complete streets.
6. Safe Streets Project Prioritization. Pedestrian fatalities are increasing nationally. Fatal and serious injury traffic crashes in Hennepin County are concentrated on particular county owned roads. What role does the county play in ensuring safe streets for all users? What factors would you consider when determining the appropriate funding, timing, and location for safe streets initiatives? Please be as specific as possible.
Debbie Goettel: More people are choosing to walk to destination some out of necessity and others out of health or enjoyment. Pedestrian fatalities have been rising as more residents get around by foot. Hennepin
County is part of Vision Zero, this is a three-year action plan aimed at elimination of all travel deaths. In 2020 the plan is in a building stage and in 2021 the plan will take concrete action steps to address issues. In 2020 we will be looking at a plan to also pay for the needed improvements to implementing the plan in the following years.
Some of the infrastructure changes include lowering speed limits, low cost bollard like bump-outs in troubled intersections. These types of changes will likely be implemented in many more places. Vision Zero is currently a partnership between Hennepin County and the city of Minneapolis. Once this is fully launched and operational, we will be able to implement throughout the entire county.
Boni Njenga: Very good question, Hennepin county roads account for high fatalities and severe injuries every year, and this is part of systematic safety issues on our roads. Hennepin county has been lacking in taking actions to improve safety and should be held accountable for the unsafe conditions on its wide, highspeed urban roads. For us to achieve safe streets for all, first we need to listen to our residents, and act on the community safety expectations.
Hennepin county should pursue safety improvement like road diets, that Federal Highway administration recommends, which is converting four lane roads into three-lane roads with a share left turn.
One factors to consider is avoiding displacement of existing communities, by using an alternative approach through community-driven transformation.
7. What is your vision for Hennepin County and how does transportation/transit intersect with it?
Debbie Goettel: At the county level last year, I introduced and passed Hennepin County resolution 19-015BR1 S1. This resolution instructed the county to work across division and departments on building a comprehensive plan on resiliency and addressing climate change. This is both internal and external. We will engage cities, businesses and NGOs across Hennepin county seeking to make the greatest impact possible.
My vision for Hennepin County is a vision that goes farther than just the county it includes a State of Minnesota that embraces a system of a transit system that is fully funded. That we get a sustainable funding stream for our transportation system. Currently the county is taking on a portion of the burden that belongs to the state. The county may not be able to hold up the entire transportation system in Hennepin County unless we have a cooperative partner in the state government. At the county level we are looking through an equity lens for all roads, bridges, transit options, bicycle paths and pedestrian sidewalks and paths. Projects will be scored with an equity lens as well, engaging the community to assess needs and accommodate all who live and travel in and out of our communities. A community that is fare and accessible for all.
Boni Njenga: My vision is Introduce evidence -based policy leadership in Hennepin county to (1) curb wasteful spending, (2) expand innovative programs, (3) strengthen accountability & transparency.
Restoring confidence in Hennepin county leadership and governance and saving taxpayers money for their other needs. The Hennepin county board of commissioners has raised the county’s property tax levy each year since 2015, without transparency and accountability of spending.
Transportation/transit is key that allows us to function in our daily lives. Be it by foot, car, bus, bicycle, wheelchair, we all need to travel, move around to meet our daily needs.
To access opportunities, groceries, school, work, recreation we use transportation. However, low income and people of color face transportation hurdles that can mean that it is impossible to access basic needs.
With convenient and safe transportation, people of color and low-income families can remain trapped in poverty, unable to access the employment and other opportunities to succeed in life, healthy foods, health care etc.
My goals are to be a part of and create a transportation that is equitable, a transportation system that works for all.