Government decisions continue to unfairly cause inconvenience to residents in northwestern Minnesota.
In recent years, disruption has been caused by the federal U.S. Customs and Border Protection Agency, which opted to cut back on crossing hours along the Minnesota-Canada border.
Now, a decision by state government is reverberating throughout the northern portion of Minnesota. The state Department of Vehicle Services has decided, during the coronavirus pandemic, to reopen only a small number of regional driver testing facilities statewide.
In mid-May, the agency opted to open only 14 locations out of 93. For the thousands of residents who live in places like Roseau, Warroad, Hallock, Thief River Falls, East Grand Forks and other northwest Minnesota communities, the nearest station is in Bemidji.
For Hallock folks who need to use a station, that’s a 156-mile drive one way. For Roseau and Warroad, a drive to Bemidji is 130 miles.
Think about it: From Hallock, it comes to 312 miles round trip, a tank or two of gas, lunch and, possibly, time away from work or family. And since it takes two trips – first for a written test and later for a driving test – the cost in time and dollars actually doubles.
In Roseau, the City Council has condemned the decision, passing a resolution that opposes the DVS decision. The council wrote that the DVS plan “does not address providing driver’s license testing capacity uniformly across the state of Minnesota at reasonable driving distances for all residents.”
The council believes that the move switches the cost burden of providing testing services “from the state of Minnesota to the residents and businesses of smaller rural communities, particularly in the north, including Roseau, Warroad, East Grand Forks, Hallock, Thief River Falls, Baudette, Ely, International Falls (and) Grand Marais among others.”
Amen to that. We suggest other public councils, commissions and committees follow the lead of the Roseau City Council and similarly condemn the decision.
Many people who reside in the northernmost parts of Minnesota still are smarting over the federal government’s switch of crossing hours at certain ports along the Canadian border. Roseau especially has felt the effects, according to residents and business owners there.
More recently, the coronavirus pandemic is taking an economic toll in the region, since all nonessential travel between Canada and the U.S. is restricted and likely will continue to be shut down throughout the remainder of summer. That’s putting even more strain on the region.
And now, when residents need a simple service such as a driver’s license, it will require a trip of hundreds of miles and a full day to do it.
We understand the need to reduce the number of DVS stations throughout Minnesota during the pandemic. But cutting from 93 to 14 is extreme, and it seems the decision was made without consulting a Minnesota map.
The state should reconsider its decision and throw a morsel in the direction of its northernmost residents.