Posted: 04/10/08 04:43
by Dave Mindeman
Two steps forward, one step backward. That's the ongoing story about mass transit in the state of Minnesota.
Maybe some of you think gas prices are going to "hold" at $4.00 a gallon (yeah, right!).... or that commutes are going to get easier (dream on!)....or that construction costs won't keep going up (that's a negative!).
The rest of us are looking at the hard realities of a future that is going to have to provide more transportation options. But the old ideas keep taking their toll; it's like trying to move a boat while the anchor is still dragging on the lake floor.
There are several "potential" light rail lines on the drawing board. They are going to cost a lot of money and the benefits will not be realized for some time. But they can never give us that benefit if they are stuck in the blueprint stage. We have got to move on this issue and as they say, time is money.
Pawlenty's veto of the Central Corridor funding is yet another short sighted politcal stunt that will cost us more in the long run. He thinks the price tag was high before --well, just wait, governor.
But it's not just the light rail issue. Here in the South Metro area they have been talking about Bus Rapid Transit for years. Study after study and delay after delay...it still hasn't been started. For years, legislators in our local districts complained about costs, complained about value, complained about real benefits. And though, they are finally giving lip service to supporting BRT, there has been little in the way of action.
And then there is transit taxing districts. Two south metro communities, Lakeville and Farmington, think that transportation issues are always "somebody else's" problem. Even though residents of these communities use the park and ride facilities in other cities, city leaders continue to fight tax district inclusion.
Oh, they will eventually do it... they will have little choice in the future. These two communities are the fastest growing suburbs in the area and at some point, their citizens will demand some options. The number of commuters keep growing and these "civic leaders" stand and watch as the problem escalates.
They managed to block a legislative amendment that would have forced them to join the surrounding cities in funding transit options.... a hollow victory at best, because the problem only grows.
Transit opponents (especially of light rail) keep fighting these projects to the bitter end. Critics of light rail keep using figures that show a small percentage of transit use involves light rail. They leave out the small detail that we have managed to BUILD ONLY 11 MILES OF TRACK! Central Corridor is back to square one. Northstar is just now getting its funding. The progress is painfully slow.
I have used the mass transit systems in other metropolitan areas. To many of them, it is unthinkable that they could survive without it. We think of Minnesota as a modern, progressive state... we think of ourselves as leaders and innovators. But, we have a problem... a serious problem... in our transporation system.
We have to take more than two steps ahead at a time and we have to stop allowing the one step backward slips. We need a serious, long term committment to getting a modern, efficient system in place. That will take money; it will take community leadership; it will take a certain amount of sacrifice.
The benefits to a modern transportation system are real. Less pollution.... reliable commutes....economic development along the lines....more efficient movement of goods and services. But none of those benefits can be realized if we don't move ahead.
Let's take those two...three...four steps forward and don't look back.