Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Learning About MSA Streets

Please be sure to read my first response, and you can also watch the whole presentation and discussion.

Here is my second response to the Mound City Council. During the discussion the Mayor said I was wrong that MSA streets were free. Another council member chastised me for being wrong. 

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I have spent a great deal of time the last couple years trying to educate myself about all the policies and issues involved with basic local government services like streets and financing. My background is in music and education, not municipal administration.

I know how to educate myself but trying to read an engineering manual like the Minnesota Municipal Street Aid manual is daunting, and really unreadable to the average reader. I spent many late nights and more hours than I dare tell my wife trying to read it, the newsletter MNDOT publishes "State Aid Scene", I went to watch a State Aid Variance meeting in Arden Hills, I looked over the State Aid Local Transportation part of the website, I've read minutes and presentation slides from the Advisory Council for Complete Street documentation they are putting together at MNDOT, I have asked questions of County, State, and other engineers because I felt I was being a nuisance to Mound's city engineers.

The mayor's explanation on how MSA streets are funded is that the local residents and city pay for the normal street expenses, similar to those that have been paid in the last few years as our regular city streets have cost us. The state will pay for the extra foundation and width these streets are required to have, to qualify for MSA money. MSA streets are not free for cities.

When I wrote previously about MSA streets and that they were free for the city, I wasn't making it up. I was trying to put pieces together, and share the information I had learned that I believed to be accurate. Getting straight answers on some of these questions is difficult. There are no classes or handy pamphlets on this topic. It's one of those government bureaucratic systems that only those in the system can really understand, and if you don't understand them, well then we should just trust them.

I know for a fact that a neighbor city of Mound has a newly built MSA street paid for by the state, and the local property owners. Actual city costs, I was told, was a qualified 'very small portion'. This was, in part, how I learned that MSA streets are free for cities. Perhaps there's a difference in how the state aid system works between construction of a new street, and a rebuilding of an old street that wasn't apparent to me.

I apologize to you, my readers, as well as the City of Mound, for providing incorrect information about MSA streets.

So what is a guy to do if he's learning about the complicated way to build and finance city streets? What does it say about these 'systems' we've built that are too complicated for an eager, semi-intelligent person to try to figure out? Is it rational to trust a system that is devoted to saving some people a chance to save 30 seconds off their commute, while hurting the neighborhood the street occupies? Is it rational for Mound to rebuild the MSA streets, before taking an honest assessment on how they impact our neighborhoods and the people they serve?

I may not understand the finances of MSA streets, but I understand the impacts they have on neighborhoods. Two slides I shared with the city council, and on my post earlier this week was from a study done in San Francisco detailing the impact of traffic on the neighborhood it goes through. Here is the story and video on that study which gives us more details on the study that was conducted.

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