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Viewpoint: An investment in the county's future

Throughout my service on the Washington County Board of Commissioners, I've had to make my share of difficult decisions. The vote this spring concerning the statewide transit tax was one of the tougher ones.

No one wants to pay more taxes and I'm no different in that respect. By anyone's measure, my record on the county board is one of fiscal conservatism.

It's often tempting to just say, "No. Let someone else pay for it." But transit is just too important a part of Washington County's future. We can't afford to stick our heads in the sand and hope someone else pays the bills because that "someone else" just doesn't exist.

In the past, we were less connected to the metro area and most transit wasn't an option. That's changing now. We have buses full of our neighbors, family members and friends going back and forth from Forest Lake to St. Paul and Minneapolis every work day, and plans for more transit options through the Rush Line Corridor partnership.

It's not just the northern part of the county either. The transit corridor along Interstate 94 and the Red Rock Transit Corridor going through southern Washington County are closely tied to both our county's economic future and our quality of life.

Transit is vital for those who cannot drive, and as our society ages, that will include more and more of us. We all want to be productive and active for as long as possible. A strong transit system can help us do that. How much would mobility be worth to you when there is no alternative?

We should limit the use of taxpayer dollars on transit and I strongly believe in asking those benefiting from transit services to support daily operation of the system by paying a reasonable price for them at the fare box.

Before we can get to that point though, we need to get the system established in our part of the metro area. We can pay for that either through property taxes, in which property owners bear all the burden regardless of their need for transit or ability to pay, or we can do it through a sales tax, in which the set-up cost for transit systems is spread among all residents, and passengers pay to use it.

Finally, I believe building a transit infrastructure is a patriotic duty very similar to Gen. Eisenhower's support of building our freeway system in the 1950s and 60s. We are a nation dependent on foreign oil, and a disruption of that flow can cause severe impacts on every level of society.

A good system of buses and trains makes it possible for more people to get where they need to go while using significantly less fuel. In tough times that can become a matter of national security. The alternative is sinking even more money into the pumps at the gas station, paying for imported oil which will get more expensive every year.

Those playing party politics in an election season will try to tell you that transit isn't an issue in Washington County. In response I'd encourage you to look around to your friends, your neighbors and your family. Transit isn't about Republican or Democrat. It's an investment in the vitality of our community and of our county.

Hegberg is Washington County Commissioner representing District 1 and the 2008 Chair of the Board of Commissioners.