Posted: 07/03/16 11:43, Edited: 07/03/16 11:46
by Dave Mindeman
The Pioneer Press put together an editorial that praised the "courage" of the Dakota County Board of Commissioners to withdraw from the Counties Transit Improvement Board. This sets the stage to, once again, cripple light rail in the Metro area.
And behind this board decision are two former Republican legislators - Chris Gerlach and Mary Liz Holberg. These two medieval thinkers were obstructors of light rail in the legislature and have found a new avenue to destroy it on the county board.
Gerlach and Holberg are back row - first two on the left.
Here is a Holberg quote that theoretically "sums it up":
"The transit projects scheduled for Dakota County are in the tens of millions of dollars, and the light-rail lines are in the hundreds of millions or billions of dollars. You just can't compete with that disparity. We're buying Chevys, and they're buying Cadillacs. You just never get to a point where there's some level of parity."
What a pile of crap.
First Holberg uses cars as some kind of analogy. Chevys and Cadillacs. She is fixated on cars as somehow superior. Light rail and roads are not analagous. They are different entities and appeal to commuters differently.
Sure, light rail costs a lot to put in place. Roads have a heavy initial cost when they first begin as well. And more problematic, they cost more to maintain going forward.
Holberg and Gerlach have never been able to see past the up front costs. They both represented Dakota County in the legislature. Holberg was even transportation chair for much too long. And Gerlach has been a thorn in the side of light rail since he started. A thorn in the side of Minnesota progress.
And they always were proud to state that they were taxpayer "watchdogs". Looking out for your money.
As demand for light rail transit progressed around the Metro suburbs. Dakota County was never really in the mix. Instead, Chris Gerlach championed BRT - Bus Rapid Transit as the way to go. He contended that it was just as efficient and cost a whole lot less.
Alright, let's examine all of that.
First on cost. Roads are a constant expense. We have fallen behind on the maintenance of this system...let alone adding to it. We are talking about $10 billion over the next 10 years - and that is pretty much all roads.
So Holberg and Gerlach do not want to let light rail suck up all that road money.
The problem with that kind of thinking is that we do not compete with other metropolitan areas. Many major population areas have moved well beyond our current system. If we are going to support the tourism for the Mall of America, then we need a modern transportation system. If we are going to be an airline hub, we need an efficient way to move people into the city. If we want conventions and business centers to develop, then we need convenience of movement.
Roads can only take us so far. And we cannot asphalt enough property to make it work.
But what is the real cost? Yes, light rail has an enormous build cost. It requires a lot of infrastructure and planning. Roads have been built on need but could have used a bit more planning. We are constantly dealing with upgrades and bottlenecks that need major overhauls. That costs real money as well. With light rail, we get development that builds around it. It is predictable growth and can be planned more systematically.
But to get to real numbers....
In Minnpost, an investigative reporter named Marlys Harris (she has worked for Money magazine and Consumer Reports) did an analysis that put a dollar value on road cost. Her number came in at $2.56 as the subsidy government pays for an automobile commute.
The numbers for an average passenger trip on other transit:
Local Urban buses = $2.17
Suburban buses = $4.98
Express bus = $2.48
Light rail = $1.44
So, if Holberg and Gerlach could get their myopic viewpoint away from the initial cost of rail, they might actually see the cost benefit in the future.
But like most Republican legislators, they do not look at the future as relevant. Not to the current budget. Not the current political cycle. The future is just more of the same partisan wrangling and budget chicanery that we deal with in the here and now.
County Commissioners are paid by the taxpayers to think ahead, to plan, to look out for the needs of constituents into the future.
Gerlach and Holberg are just bad at this type of thinking. They were that way in the legislature - they are worse as county commissioners. When they were in the legislature they were only 2 of 134. Now they are 2 of 7. That is lousy odds for Dakota County.
And since Dakota County has a significant population for the seven county metro area, these odds are bad for Minneapolis and St. Paul...and bad for the state of Minnesota.
Holberg and Gerlach are gumming up the works.