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.