Lat week I had a chance encounter with two men I had never met, MNDOT Commissioner Charlie Zelle and Chief of Staff Eric Davis. It occurred after a scheduled event held at Century College on 12 December. Everyone had left and I was 20 minutes late and unknowingly asked two guys in the hallway if they knew the room the bike meeting was held in. They corrected me. It was a transportation meeting and pointed out the room. I asked them if they had attended the meeting and one of the men introduced the other as Commissioner Zelle, and then introduced himself. “You are Commissioner Zelle,” I exclaimed, tapping him on the arm. “Who are you,” he responded. “I am Mike Brooks,” I said. “Oh, you are Mike Brooks. It is good to have a face to connect to the name.” Approachable guy the Commissioner.
We laughed and talked briefly. We only had a minute, maybe two, so my main point to him was about the Strongtowns presentation made in White Bear Lake on 15 October advocating for squeezing more local benefit from MNDOT projects. I also told him our Mayor, who attended the Strongtowns presentation, was hesitant to suggest taking a new look at the project, slowing the approval process down, for fear of MNDOT moving onto the next project leaving our highway without the refresh. The Commissioner seemed concerned at that and mentioned involving an ombudsman.
A street-level conversation with the head guy at our state DOT, what could be better. I think the Commissioner is built to listen, and he is taking it all in looking for implementable ideas with focus.
What follows is a re-posting of an 18 December blog (that’s today!) from the Strongtowns site. It is entitled, “The Next Generation DOT.” It takes a higher level view of what faces all DOT’s and suggests what is not working and what new approaches might be more prudent given their situation.
So, before we move onto the guest blogger….Commissioner, it was good to meet you. Eric, the same. Hopefully your ombudsman can come to White Bear Lake soon before the deal on #61 is closed-up tight to fit into the schedule. We have a great opportunity. It’s your road, but it cuts through our City and it is our City’s estimated $1 million to $1.5 million that is allocated for enhancements beyond the budgeted cost to resurface the road. In frankness, we have not done a good job engaging our local and downtown business leaders…to let them see on paper what U.S. 61 could offer to bridge the core downtown from East to West…and MNDOT’s involvement in that discussion is key. We also need a little more time. That’s not asking much for Christmas is it?