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Progressive Politics in Minnesota, the Nation, and the World

Transit Is Our Future

Category: Transportation
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.
comments (5) permalink

Sen.Abeler Votes No On Bonding - Anoka Transportation Suffers

Category: Transportation
Posted: 05/06/16 02:29

by Dave Mindeman

The Senate bonding bill failed to pass by one vote. Two Republicans were needed to move the bill into a potential conference committee. Only Sen. Carla Nelson of Rochester would cast a GOP vote for the bill.

Rep. Jim Abeler, newly elected Senator from Anoka, voted against it. He did so in spite of the fact that the bonding bill included a very important project for his district.

Rail grade separation on crude oil lines - Hanson Blvd, Anoka County

What is important about this $12 million project?

Here is a brief description....

Would reconstruct Anoka County State Aid Highway 78 (CSAH 78)/Hanson Boulevard to a four-lane divided section that is grade separated from the Burlington Northern Sante Fe (BNSF) railroad. CSAH 78 is an important north-south route providing mobility and access through Anoka County and the city of Coon Rapids. Approximately 12,500 vehicles per day use CSAH 78, including a Metro Transit bus route and emergency responders such as medical and fire. Additionally, approximately 81 trains per day, comprised of freight, Northstar Commuter traffic and Amtrak rail traffic, use the BNSF rail line.

Grade separation would mean constructing some kind of bridge or underpass that would separate the rail traffic from the vehicle traffic. A lot of those 81 trains are shipping crude oil - and an accident of any kind at that location could be an explosive event.

But it isn't only rail safety, although that is one of the main reasons the Senate included it in this bonding bill....but it is the traffic congestion. Vehicles can have delays of 8 to 25 minutes at this location. And the Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) rail company plans to add a third track to accomodate even more rail traffic going forward.

There is an urgent need to separate the traffic volume. MNDOT has it on its highest priority list...and all levels of government are on board. And the quicker funding is obtained the better.

Yet, Senator Abeler, votes no. His NO vote puts this project on a delayed status. A YES vote would have given the project a chance to move forward. MNDOT will get this done, they know the need, but they need the state to bring their financial support in order to get it done NOW.

That support was there today, but Sen. Abeler voted no.

No to his district. No to rail safety. No to an easing of traffic congestion.

And it is not like Sen. Jim Abeler is not aware of traffic needs in our state. When he was in the House, he was one of the Override Six - the six House Republicans that voted to override Gov. Pawlenty's veto and help to maintain our roads and bridges for a lot of the last decade.

But this time, he voted no on a pretty basic district need.

Will bonding get washed out for this session? Was that the best chance for some much needed projects?

Who are you representing, Sen. Abeler?
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Transit: The House GOP Is Standing In The Way Of Our Future

Category: Transportation
Posted: 05/02/16 13:26, Edited: 05/02/16 13:43

by Dave Mindeman

We are going to look back on this period...this legislative period...and wonder what the hell we were thinking?

We have infrastructure problems, maintenance problems, carbon emission problems...problems, problems, problems.

And we are not addressing them.

This is a representative democracy which means we count on those we elect to take care of the day to day needs of how the state operates. We do not elect them to do what we wish them to do, we elect them to do what we need them to do.

That is why this transportation conundrum is so frustrating. We need our elected representatives to find out what is needed, how best to meet that need, and THEN JUST DO IT!

And that brings us to transit. Southwest Light Rail has things to work out, no question. But nobody thinks that we should abandon the whole thing. The commuters want it, the cities involved want it, the state needs it.

We have been fooling around with getting the metropolitan area into a full multi-modal system for decades. Constant delays. Arguments about funding. Arguments about process. It is ridiculous.

Seniors are looking to a future where they are not dependent on cars. Students need it to expand their school choices. Commuters need it for a reliable method to get to work. Employers need it to expand their markets.

Seven Minnesota Senators have taken a stand to withhold their bonding bill vote unless the state portion of SWLRT funding is included.

The DFLers who support this effort are state Sens. Ron Latz of St. Louis Park, Melisa Franzen of Edina, John Hoffman of Champlin, Jim Carlson of Eagan, Chris Eaton of Brooklyn Park, Kathy Sheran of Mankato and Barb Goodwin of Columbia Heights.

Transportation heroes as far as I am concerned.

And they are not fighting simply for $135 million in money to contribute to the SWLRT effort...they are also fighting for the $895 million in Federal money that we would get for doing that. Money that goes somewhere else if we do not contribute our share. (And the deadline is NOW.) That is a pretty good leverage by anyone's standards. A 6 to 1 return on investment.

And yet, we have not done it. And the House Republicans don't intend to do it.

The House Republicans have stood in the way of our transportation future far too long. If they are going to stand in the way then let's get them out of the way.

This is just too damn important.
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