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Traffic Worry Tops Crime*

Met Council annual survey: Traffic is top concern

Bill McAuliffe

Star Tribune

Thursday, June 14, 2001

Transportation and housing issues leapt to the top of the list of metro-area residents' concerns in this year's Metropolitan Council survey.

Crime, listed as the top concern by the biggest share of respondents every year for more than a decade, dropped to fourth. At third was a conglomeration of social issues that include poverty, discrimination and drugs.

Met Council Chairman Ted Mondale said the findings validate the council's efforts to address traffic congestion with transportation alternatives and "smart growth" development strategies.

"It's becoming an issue that impacts people every day. It's a quality-of-life issue, and also a productivity issue facing the business community," Mondale said.

About 800 metro-area residents were randomly interviewed for the survey, which was cosponsored by the University of Minnesota Center for Survey Research.

The issues of top concern, by percentage of those polled, were:

Transportation (congestion and traffic), 23 percent, up from 3 percent in 1993.

Social issues, 17 percent, down from 20 percent last year.

Housing affordability, 16 percent, up from 1 percent in 1998, the sharpest jump for any factor over the past two years.

Crime, 12.5 percent, down from 61 percent in 1993.

Asked whether transportation alternatives such as light rail, exclusive busways and commuter rail are necessary in the metro area, 79 percent agreed.

Mondale used that response to criticize the Republican House majority for a transportation bill that would support highway funding but prohibit all new study of rail lines and revoke plans to build a busway from downtown St. Paul to the airport.

"It's clear the public understands and wants and supports a balanced approach," Mondale said. "The House transportation policy is way out of step. Their policy is to cut transit in a time of a surplus."

House Transportation Committee Chairwoman Carol Molnau, R-Chaska, countered by pointing to last year's funding of "transit advantages" -- highway improvements that allowed buses to operate on more miles of metro-area freeway shoulders. She added that while bus ridership has increased, she is not convinced that light rail, reconfigured bus lines and other options will reduce congestion any more effectively than highway improvements.

We (still) like it here

The survey, which had a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points, also found that:

Concerns about development-related issues -- housing and urban sprawl as well as transportation -- were cited as a top concern by 44 percent of the respondents.

Nearly all respondents -- 97 percent -- rated the Twin Cities area a better place to live than other metropolitan areas, a result that has been consistent in the survey through the years.

However, some of that local affection appears to have diminished. For the first time, the percentage of people regarding the region as "much better" in recent years, 47 percent, was lower than those who consider it "slightly better," which was just more than 50 percent.

"That's a one-year thing," Mondale said. "It could be the weather, and I'm with 'em."

Bill McAuliffe is at mcaul@startribune.com .

(Original Len: 3529 Condensed Len: 3823)

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