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Progressive Politics in Minnesota, the Nation, and the World

Transportation Languishes - Potential Unrealized

Category: Transportation
Posted: 07/06/14 01:35

by Dave Mindeman

It is very frustrating to watch the soap opera like saga of the movement on light rail in the Twin Cities Metro. The Southwest LRT is a mess of turf battles and cost increases....with no end in sight.

Now we are already getting grousing from Dakota County about too much emphasis on the west metro.....and Dakota is not getting its "fair share".

Yes, light rail is a big investment. And big investments always have critics. But half way measures are the problem here. Its like a relationship where both parties are afraid to commit.

Each time we open a segment on light rail, the ridership exceeds projections - even with the numerous restraints we put on the system during the building process. And development always follows...with big numbers.

Yet, there is this constant dragging of feet and gnashing of teeth. Are we just going to stop here? Are we going to let a thriving Metro economy make do with 20th century transportation?

When it comes to Dakota County, the headwinds are only going to get worse. Former Republican Senator Chris Gerlach is on the current board and recently retired Mary Liz Holberg is going to seek a position on the board as well. Both have been staunch opponents of light rail in the past and presumably will continue to be in the future - only with a little more inside clout now.

It was Gerlach who talked the south metro into a smaller investment in Bus Rapid Transit - a line that runs from Apple Valley to the Mall of America. And frankly, it has been a disappointment with slow completion on transit stops and times that are only slightly faster than regular buses. BRT helps with increasing passenger numbers per unit but actually increases the wear and tear on the Cedar Ave/Hwy 77 road corridor.

If a longer view had prevailed, maybe the BRT funds could have been diverted to LRT on the Robert Street Corridor along Hwy 52. That would have given the South Metro a more direct link to St. Paul and the Central Corridor. And given more access to key downtown Mpls/StP destinations.

Light Rail is a big investment with a long range plan - but we continue to think in piecemeal terms. Like I said, Southwest is caught up in turf battles which only delay the project and increase the costs.

The big picture is to go all in and move on a system that circles the Metro and connects to all the major bus routes that enter the key city centers. If we can make it easy and convenient for people to travel the metro without cars, then we can realize the full benefits of an LRT system.

A full project is going to take some serious political will to make it happen. I don't see much of that out there. The ideas are tentative and wilt in the face of the cost investments needed.

But we can't just stand still. We have investments already made that need to be brought to fruition and we have unrealized future benefits waiting to be drawn upon.

Strong action and vision are required - somebody please take it on.
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Light Rail And Development - A Billion Dollar Duo

Category: Transportation
Posted: 05/15/14 03:44

by Dave Mindeman

Light rail projects are never big favorites with Republicans. They are expensive to build and generally require ongoing subsidies to keep them going.

So why are they so important? Unlike roads (which are heavily subsidized as well), rail moves people more efficiently. It is cleaner and not subject to the daily parking lot traffic jams.

But the most important aspect of light rail that Republicans should appreciate, but never mention, is development.

The Green Line is going to open next month - but before it transports one passenger it has opened up redevelopment along the line to the tune of $2.5 billion. Yes, billion with a "B".

This corridor will spur growth between the two cities. It will increase property tax revenue and open up retail sales with the appropriate sales tax tail.

Yes, light rail may be subsidized but it has a predictable movement of people that spur developers into action. A rail corridor promotes growth and brings in stable populations. A description that business sees as big dollar signs.

Republicans continue to fight light rail at every opportunity - but you won't find the chamber joining them much. They see dollar signs in the air and economic growth on the ground.

Rail is still the future of the metro area - whether the GOP gets on the train or not.
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Southwest Light Rail Lacks The Reasonable - And Leadership

Category: Transportation
Posted: 03/27/14 14:25

by Dave Mindeman

We have a situation that emphasizes the point about mass transit obstruction in Minnesota has a bipartisan duo-head. Current issue? The Southwest Light Rail project.

I have been watching the process of this project with growing frustration. I haven't talked about it before because it has become so complicated that I have no idea who is right - who is wrong - or even what suggestion makes sense.

It is an urban-suburban war and it is taking casualties.

Here is the worry:

Transit planners say delays in the Southwest Corridor light-rail project will likely push back its opening to 2019 or 2020 -- a year or more beyond its scheduled start -- and help push the price tag from $1.5 billion to as high as $1.8 billion.

This is an important piece of the puzzle for a metro-wide light rail loop. And it shows absolutely no signs of getting to a resolution. It has overlapped two Minneapolis Mayors and a plethora of suggested solutions and yet, they still sit at a standstill.

The construction costs continue to mount. The time frame continues to march indefinitely into the future. Somebody has to step in here and really lead - not just talk, lead.

The money has been appropriated - at least for what the project used to cost. It is just politics and NIMBY now.

The costs mount and the development waits. Who is going to step up?
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