Nicole Griensewic became the chair of the CTS Executive Committee on July 1. Griensewic is the executive director of the Region Nine Development Commission, an agency based in Mankato that promotes a nine-county region of south-central Minnesota. She succeeds George Schember, former vice president of Cargill Transportation & Logistics, who served on the Executive Committee for eight years prior to his retirement.
Below, Griensewic shares her thoughts for transportation priorities and economic growth.
What are some transportation challenges and opportunities in Greater Minnesota?
One issue is transit—many families are without a vehicle and need transit to reach jobs and other destinations. We need a transit-oriented thought process—bringing in local units of government, local developers, MnDOT, and others—to make development more transit-friendly. It’s also exciting to think how connected and automated vehicles could one day provide service for those unable to drive, helping Grandma on the farm get to the doctor.
A second challenge relates to freight movement—the last-mile problem—which can be a major expense in the logistics chain for manufacturers. Federal infrastructure funding could accelerate road and bridge projects statewide and support expansion of small airports and other facilities. Automated vehicles could also reduce last-mile costs, but we need to anticipate the workforce impacts of driverless trucks.
How are transportation and economic development connected?
Everywhere. Intersectionality is everywhere. For example, transit-oriented planning needs to reflect where workers live and where jobs are located, both in the Twin Cities and in Greater Minnesota. We need expanded passenger rail to Rochester and more transit options connecting Mankato’s many international students to MSP. Tourists want easy access to Duluth and regional bike trails when they get there—that’s economic development.
In addition, transportation planning needs to be equitable and inclusive. People aged 8 to 80 of all abilities have places to go, which means things as basic as curb cutouts become important for mobility—that’s economic development.
What transportation challenges should be prioritized for Minnesota’s success?
We need broadband expansion. And climate change must be a priority—it affects every mode of transportation. Even in more conservative areas of the state, people are recognizing that climate impacts are larger and different than before. I’m optimistic that more of a conversation is happening, focused less on causes and more on solutions and forward-thinking investments.
Autonomous vehicles offer great promise but will be disruptive for current industries and some segments of the workforce. We need to know when to expect these vehicles on the road and prepare for the impacts and the economic opportunities. Public-private partnerships, for example, could bring together transportation planners, economic developers, and business leaders to discuss growth potential for Minnesota manufacturers.
Longer term, we must find ways to fund transportation sustainably. Gas-tax revenues will continue to decline with the growth of electric vehicles, and we need to be ahead of the curve.
As a pilot, I’m also a big supporter of aviation. MSP and our system of local airports make essential contributions to our economic growth and global competitiveness. At the same time, CO2 emissions must decline—an area ripe for innovation.
Do you bring a different lens to transportation issues?
The University receives support from throughout Minnesota and it addresses issues that affect the whole state. I’ll help bring the Greater Minnesota perspective to the committee and to CTS.
I’m also a member of the Gender Equity in Transportation Collaborative, an advisory group formed by Humphrey School researchers. The collaborative is spurring conversations among leaders and organizations to make transportation planning more equitable and inclusive. Researchers are studying how men and women make different travel decisions. Safety is an obvious factor: Women may choose a commuting option that feels safer when they’re alone. That’s the reality.
On a personal note, I became a pilot in 2016 in part to increase the percentage of women aviators—still only about 10 percent. Representation matters.