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.
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?
Chris LaTondresse: The accelerating impacts of climate change represent a clear and present danger to our way of life as Minnesotans and for our children’s futures. As Minnesota’s largest county, Hennepin must take bold, resilient action. As your next Commissioner, I will provide that leadership. We need to help Minnesotans imagine a future where more of our vehicles are powered by home-grown energy like solar and wind, and more of our total miles traveled include walking, biking, and transit. In county government, this means harnessing the full potential of Southwest Light Rail (which runs through the heart of District 6), ensuring our transit dollars stay dedicated to transit uses, and fully electrifying our publicly owned vehicle fleet. It also means championing efforts already underway to deliver an ambitious Climate Action Plan—a new comprehensive set of recommendations to improve Hennepin’s overall climate impact—and aligning our budget and policy decisions to those recommendations.
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?
Chris LaTondresse: The events of this past summer have further exposed Minnesota’s racial disparities, fueled by our nation’s long and painful history of systemic racism—including transportation and housing policies that have resulted in a disproportionate number of Black, Brown, and Indigenous Minnesotans living and working along our most polluted and dangerous transportation corridors. As Commissioner, I will bring environmental justice and climate justice lenses to every decision I make, and I strongly support the recent board decision to label systemic racism a public health emergency. We must match these words with action. As a starting place, this requires centering the voices of those from historically marginalized communities. I will ensure the newly established Race and Equity Council is included as a key stakeholder in the county’s transportation decisions. I will improve safety for walkers and bikers by expediting the full implementation of our county’s Complete Streets policy. I will take action to reduce pollution by advocating for electrifying our region’s publicly-owned vehicle fleet, and making sure county road projects and transit investments benefit those who need them the most.
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?
Chris LaTondresse: As county leaders, we have a responsibility to inspire our community to imagine what’s possible and then match words with action. On transit, that means educating our community about the benefits of Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) and translating public enthusiasm for Southwest Light Rail (LRT) into a green light for the Bottineau line. Public leadership also demands that when we tell our community we’re generating revenue for a specific purpose, we invest those taxpayer dollars as promised. As Commissioner, I’m committed to ensuring that transit funds generated by Hennepin County’s Sales and Use Transportation Tax are used for long term transit investments.
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?
Chris LaTondresse: The Bottineau Blue Line Extention is a once in a generation opportunity to help transform a low-wealth community into a high-opportunity zone, connecting Hennepin County residents who have long been underserved by our transit investments, to our shared regional prosperity. Some have called Bottineau an “equity train”, and I agree. The breakdown in negotiations with BNSF Railway presents a unique opportunity to plan for an even better route that will benefit even more county residents, especially in low-wealth communities. As Commissioner, I’ll stand with those who are championing forward progress on this project, and contribute to that momentum. I’ll also protect dedicated transit funds generated by the Sales and Use Transportation Tax to ensure Hennepin County stands ready to make this investment—leveraging these funds to bring state and federal partners to the table, as we did with South West Light Rail.
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.
Chris LaTondresse: I will advocate for funding levels that make Complete Streets a reality for every county road project. When a street is getting worked on it’s often a once in a generation opportunity to re-imagine what that facility can be. When we don’t take that extra time, we lose decades of opportunity to improve the lives of everyone using these streets—how they live, work, go to school, attend worship services, etc. As Commissioner, I’m committed to ensuring all county roads are safe and accessible for people of all abilities and ages, and I believe we need to consider all users in our road projects—whether we’re just resurfacing or implementing a complete redesign
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.
Chris LaTondresse: I support the Vision Zero movement and believe the responsibility for user safety is shared by those who use our streets, those who design them, and the public leaders who set priorities and allocate investments in the first place. In Hennepin County, I believe that starts with looking at crash data to help us prioritize transportation projects. As Commissioner, I will prioritize improvements that target places with a higher number of fatal and serious injuries and support an evidence-based approach to setting speed limits on county roads.
7. What is your vision for Hennepin County and how does transportation/transit intersect with it?
Chris LaTondresse: One of the most ambitious Hennepin County transit investments in a generation—Southwest Light Rail (SWLRT)—runs straight through the heart of Hennepin County District 6. Our next District 6 Commissioner will need to be a bold champion for this investment, helping ignite our community’s imagination around what’s possible with our public investments. Our grandchildren will ride SWLRT. As Commissioner, I will make sure we unleash its full potential. It took visionary leadership and unprecedented coordination across local, state, and federal governments to make this happen, and no single public investment will have a greater impact on the future of development across the west metro. All of us owe retiring Commissioner Jan Callison a debt of gratitude for her role carrying this vision forward—and I am proud to have her endorsement. Like Commissioner Callison, I understand that projects like SWRLT and Bottineau have always been about more than transit. They’re about jobs. Opportunity. Housing. Climate Leadership. Equity. Connecting the region. Bottom line: They’re a smart investment in our future. If my four-year-old has anything to say about it, we’ll be the first passengers hopping aboard at Blake Road Station when it opens.