Dear Minnesota Legislature,
On March 8th, 2016 you will reconvene and the State Transportation Department will be smiling and pressing the flesh for more money. They will have statistics, stories and pictures of crumbling bridges. But they will not say a word about some of the most important bridges they are responsible for because they have not taken the time to build these bridges. These are the Civil Rights bridges to the diverse populations of Minnesota. And though MnDOT has been pre-paid by the Federal Government for decades to ensure that 50+ year old laws like Title VI and 25+ year-old laws like ADA are integrated into the state transportation plan at the project level, they can provide you no tangible, independently audited evidence of a high-level of compliance. Be prepared for something like this from the State Transportation Department:
We evaluated the agency’s compliance with Title VI, The Americans with Disabilities Act, as well as Complete Streets legislation and policy. The review of current policies, practices, state and federal law, and the case law affirmed for us this agency is in compliance or in substantial compliance with state and federal civil rights laws.
Sounds good, but you are smart people and you probably noticed they used the “we evaluated” line. Easy to get on the honor roll when you are grading your own work.
What agency in Minnesota is responsible for ensuring that MnDOT proactively pursues continuing education of communities on Civil Rights requirements. And, is it the same agency that we’ve appointed to make sure MnDOT understands and applies all applicable non-motorized laws to ensure every project has a human element and meets our professed vision of an inclusive multi-modal transportation system. The answer is the same agency…MNDOT. Remember…they grade their own papers.
Don’t feel bad. Our state DOT spends something like 6-7 figures a year creating plans, studies, reports and staging public events to publicly build a good rep about how much a balanced transportation system and inclusivity means to them. With all the planning and publications I sometimes think they think they are Met Council, when in fact they are by law the State Transportation Authority, the Implementation Guys.
So don’t buy into the Powerpoint. When the lights come back on it is time to represent the people of Minnesota. Ask them about the $300 million 35E/Cayuga project. Tell them you know that this is a neighborhood with one of the highest incidents of poverty in the Metro. Explain that its homes and apartments are filled with people who speak one or more of over 12 languages. Then lean forward, maybe take your glasses off for effect, and ask how they did this without having a Limited English Proficiency Plan ( LEP). A way of communicating with the diverse people in the neighborhood about their lives so MnDOT would know what to build. How did you do that MnDOT? How did you complete such a large and expensive project without knowing what to build? The room will be very quiet. It will be all yours when you say to the Commissioner of Transportation, Mr. Zelle, what are you doing with all of the money we already give to you? Get ready for a lot of extra words and more back peddling than a paddleboat about to go over the falls.
You can do this. It’s not like the Vikings Stadium. You have more money than they do this time.