Minnesota’s Met Council is now under federal review by the U.S. Department of Transportation after facing years of criticism over its undemocratic structure.
The Twin Cities Met Council consists of 17 unelected officials, including its chair, all of whom are appointed by the state’s governor to oversee several of the state’s major transportation projects. Currently, the council is jamming through several high-cost projects, including a $2.2 billion Light Rail extension, even though the system accounts for only 1.4 percent of all passenger miles, as The Minnesota Sun previously reported.
Of the 400 similar organizations across the country, the Met Council is the only Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) exempted from a federal elected-representation requirement—an exemption that was grandfathered in by the Obama administration.
The Federal Transit Administration (FTA) and the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) confirmed the federal review with Rep. Jason Lewis (R-MN-02), who has been calling for an investigation throughout his first term in Congress.
“In light of the important roles of MPOs in transportation planning, the concerns you express about the effectiveness of of the Met Council under its existing governance structure, and the information you provided in your letter, additional study is warranted,” FTA Acting Administrator K. Jane Williams wrote to Lewis.
In response to my request, the Department of Transportation is issuing an official review of the Met Council’s compliance with federal law! Check out my statement below. #MN02 pic.twitter.com/YOB1W1bLHW
— Jason Lewis (@RepJasonLewis) September 25, 2018
“Accordingly, FHWA and FTA will undertake further review of the Met Council’s compliance with federal requirements for the composition of an MPO,” she continued.
Lewis applauded Williams’ announcement, saying “it’s time to finally bring transparency and accountability to the Met Council board.”
“It’s high-time the Department of Transportation officially review the Met Council’s standing given their refusal to comply with federal law. By deliberately excluding locally elected officials from their board, the council has utterly failed in their duty to be held accountable to the taxpayers of the seven county metro area they serve,” Lewis continued.
The Minnesota Legislature, controlled by Republicans, has put forward numerous measures to bring reform to the Met Council, but all were vetoed by Gov. Mark Dayton. In May, Dayton vetoed a bill that would have altered the Met Council’s structure to include a combination of elected and appointed officials.
Additionally, an amendment under the federal appropriations bill authored by Lewis in the U.S. House would prohibit unelected MPOs from distributing federal transportation funds, according to MinnPost. Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and Sen. Tina Smith (D-MN), however, both oppose Lewis’ amendment, making the federal review Lewis’ best chance at securing reform.
“Met Council political appointees only answer to the governor and make the staff very powerful,” Center of the American Experiment Vice President Kim Crockett said. “If the appointment model was working, the metro area would not be experiencing gridlock on our roads and gridlock on transportation policies and funding. Elected officials will bring credibility to the Met Council.”
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