The Free Press, Mankato, MN

Local News

April 24, 2013

Transportation department's newest job: Sell public on value of more spending



But Dayton wants to start building public support for that comprehensive approach, including new revenue for highway construction and maintenance, and wants MnDOT to lead the way.

“Zelle, get out there and make the case,” the MnDOT commissioner said, paraphrasing Dayton’s instructions.

Zelle showed the Mankato group a three-minute draft video produced by MnDOT and sought  opinions and suggestions. The slickly produced video’s theme was the importance of “getting from A to B,” showing Minnesotans heading to jobs, traveling to leisure activities, transporting products, shipping farm commodities to market, connecting with family members.

It displayed the breadth of the state’s transportation system, from roads and bridges to waterways and airports to commuter trains and bike trails. And it suggested that the state needs to move from yesterday’s infrastructure to one that will serve Minnesota’s economy in the future.

“We can get there,” the voice-over states. “We’ve just got to keep moving.”

The audience provided plenty of comment. Mankato’s transit director suggested that the role of bus systems at least needed to be acknowledged, a local chamber director proposed showing the projects funded as a result of the last gas tax increase, and St. Peter Public Works Director Lew Giesking said MnDOT needs to remind Minnesotans that the transportation system is theirs and they’re responsible for preserving and improving it.

“What I think is lacking is the idea of ownership,” Giesking said.

Zelle agreed that Giesking’s message was crucial.

“We as citizens own the system and we build it,” he said.

Persuading citizens that they want to dedicate some of their dollars to the cause — and getting them to convey that message to state lawmakers — is the next challenge for Zelle and his staff.

MnDOT Communications Director Kevin Gutknecht said he wasn’t sure if Minnesotans would see 30-second versions of the video on broadcast television or if the public relations campaign would concentrate primarily on meetings across the state with local opinion leaders like the group gathered in Mankato.

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