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Sieben blames snow-related crashes on Pawlenty

Many of Minnesota's 300-plus traffic accidents Tuesday morning - not to mention slow commutes - were due to the Pawlenty administration not adequately funding transportation, a group that included Sen. Katie Sieben said at a press conference Tuesday.

Senate Transportation Chairman Steve Murphy, DFL-Red Wing, said roads were not cleared like they should be, blaming 290 property damage accidents and 48 that caused injuries on a shortage of money. He used the situation to renew a call for increasing the gasoline tax to better fund transportation.

"We need new, real money," said Murphy, a frequent critic of Gov. Tim Pawlenty and Transportation Commissioner Carol Molnau.

He also expressed frustration at House colleagues who join Pawlenty and Molnau in opposing increasing the gasoline tax a nickel a gallon as he wants.

Money is not the issue, countered Lucy Kender of the Minnesota Department of Transportation.

"MnDOT will do and spend whatever it takes to do snow and ice removal on our highways," Kender said.

Nearly 3 inches of snow in the Twin Cities and up to 6 inches elsewhere snarled highways in southern and west-central Minnesota Tuesday morning, with many motorists reporting commutes lasting more than twice as long as normal.

Sen. Katie Sieben, DFL-Newport, usually needs 12 minutes to reach the Capitol, but she said that on Tuesday the drive was 1.5 hours. "I didn't see a snowplow the entire route."

Kender, stuck in traffic two hours herself, said MnDOT had enough plows on the road, but their effectiveness is limited in slow traffic when snow continues to fall. And, she added, chemicals spread on roads are less effective in zero-degree weather.

Snow plows were out as early at 4:30 a.m., Kender said.

"This isn't Arkansas," Rick Krueger said. "We should be able to deal with a couple of inches of snow in a manner in which we don't disrupt traffic like we did this morning."

Krueger, executive director of the Minnesota Transportation Alliance, said state funding cutbacks for highway maintenance contribute to traffic snarls.

Reporter Scott Wente contributed to this story.

Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.