Posted: 05/20/16 22:41, Edited: 05/20/16 22:45
by Dave Mindeman
On Almanac, the 4 legislative leaders met to talk about the session. There was nothing really new, but you can kind of see where the lines have been drawn.
I find it concerning that the Republicans treat light rail transit as if it is their line in the sand. They "don't like trains." And Erik Eskola asked if Democrats are going to "fall on their sword over transit."
Really, how long does this archaic argument have to continue? And I do mean archaic. We are a major metropolitan area and we have the farthest to go of any city metro to get a comprehensive transit system in place.
We have stalled progress. We have let Federal money disappear. We have argued over benefits and costs. And have argued over where they go and who they are supposed to serve.
The latest criticism seems to be that "nobody uses it" and "greater MN doesn't want to pay for it."
Let's look at what we have. We have the Blue Line which essentially is transportation from Mall of America to downtown Minneapolis. We have the NorthStar which runs from Target Field to Big Lake -and if you are wondering why Big Lake and not St. Cloud, well let's just say that stalling and cost increases had a role. And now we have the Green Line, which connects the two cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul.
The Blue Line exceeded expectations in ridership. The Green Line greatly exceeded expectations in ridership. And the NorthStar started out strong but has tapered off - probably because the promised extension to St. Cloud has never happened.
Frankly, the only way that light rail will fully meet its overall expectations is if the system would simply get completed. Southwest is on the table and a few others are in the investigation phase, but each one is necessary to complete the light rail package.
On Almanac, Daudt says that buses are "more efficient" than light rail. I would really like to see him quantify that, because I do not believe it.
Rail is fuel efficient.
If buses go electric, then maybe they would compete, but that is in the future and would cost a lot for retrofitting.
Rail moves more people more efficiently.
Buses use existing roads and contribute greatly to road wear and tear. They have a limited capacity and have to make more runs to move the same amount of people.
Rail is more reliable.
Buses are subject to road construction. Weather issues. And still have to deal with traffic congestion. Light rail has its own right of way and can move in a variety of weather conditions.
Rail costs a lot to build - but is competitive in ongoing maintenance.
Light rail trains require an enormous initial investment (which is what the GOP uses to scare people away). But once built, the advantages just described kick in to keep costs manageable. The additional problem of the delays in building light rail are increasing those initial costs. We need to get this done as soon as possible.
Rail is beneficial to more than a few.
When rail is connected to the regular bus system, the amount of use will always increase. However, the biggest argument to this is that rural area don't benefit from the light rail investment. But light rail costs in Minnesota are largely covered by a combination of a seven county metro tax and by Federal funds that are specially allocated for this purpose. If we don't meet those qualifications, that money will fund a rail project somewhere else. But in addition to that, the Minnesota population is aging. Rural elderly are moving closer to metropolitan areas to get needed services - and moving to the metro to be with family. And there is going to be a growing need in rural areas for more transportation options, which will probably mean more bus routes. Light rail can free up buses for that purpose.
Rail is a basis for business and residential development
It is not hard to see how development springs up around light rail lines. They are consistent modes of travel and residential housing is built accordingly. It can affect housing values positively as well. But businesses can make light rail part of their long term business plans as well. That is why businesses are on board to move light rail into our future.
Republicans have indicated, at least somewhat, that BRT is their preferred method of increasing transit. And while it is an improvement in some regards, it still causes damage to roads. It requires usage of road lanes that will limit road expansion for cars. It requires building special stations. And quite frankly, if the Red Line (BRT from Apple Valley to MOM) is any indication, usage is not meeting expectations.
All this talk of killing rail is affecting Minnesota's future. People already see how mass transit is used in most other metropolitan areas. When people move here, they are puzzled by our lack of transit options.
Don't let the Republicans fool you into thinking they are looking out for your taxes when it comes to light rail. A full and complete transit system is a big investment, but it is a necessary investment if we are to continue to grow and compete as a state.
Let's make this work.