Just as hope is renewed during spring training, 2012 looks to be a promising year for transit-related development in the Twin Cities.

So it was fitting that the Metropolitan Council held its state-of-the-region presentation at Target Field on Wednesday, with an emphasis on creating a 21st-century regional transit system.

Last year, the council received a federal grant that will cover half the cost of the $957 million Central Corridor light-rail line connecting the downtowns of Minneapolis and St. Paul.

The line is about 40 percent complete, and the Met Council says the project has created 2,200 jobs so far and will add another 1,200 by the time the line is up and running in 2014.

Federal, state and local government entities aren't completely on board yet for the next extension, the Southwest Corridor line, but much progress has been made.

Federal approvals are in place are in place to begin preliminary engineering on a $1.2 billion, 15-mile line that would go through Eden Prairie, Minnetonka, Hopkins, St. Louis Park and Minneapolis.

The Central and Southwest corridors and the existing Hiawatha light-rail line, as well as the Northstar commuter-rail line, would eventually connect at a multimodal hub right outside of Target Field.

The Met Council projects that this "Interchange" project would accommodate 31,000 daily Hiawatha riders and a projected 32,000 riders using the Central Corridor line. A $10 million federal grant will help finance the hub.

Rail transit isn't the only investment. Beyond the extensive regular-route bus service, 2012 will see the beginning of the Cedar Avenue bus rapid transit line as well as Rapid Bus, which is a faster version of traditional bus service.

The Met Council reports that transit ridership is at a 30-year high. About 80.9 million rides were taken in 2011 -- a 3.5 percent increase.

Rising population, traffic congestion and higher gas prices will likely lead to increasing demand. It remains to be seen if the necessary infrastructure will be in place to keep up, but there are encouraging signs.

Last week, Gov. Mark Dayton announced the creation of a transportation financing advisory group that will seek ways to stabilize transit funding. And on Tuesday, Dayton slotted $25 million of his proposed $775 million bonding bill for further development of the Southwest line.

All too often, transit falls victim to the ideological divide. But there are new signs that support is growing for a sound and efficient transportation system that will make the region more competitive.

On Tuesday, the Minneapolis Regional Chamber of Commerce, the St. Paul Area Chamber of Commerce and the TwinWest Chamber of Commerce, which together represent more than 3,000 businesses, applauded Dayton's inclusion of Southwest funds in the bonding bill.

The Minnesota Chamber of Commerce should concur, and all four organizations should lobby legislators to approve the bonding proposal.

It's in the region's best interest to seize the opportunity to attract available federal funding. The $25 million in state bonding would net $225 million in local and federal funds for the project.

All of the transit projects now in the pipeline can create badly needed jobs in the short term, while positioning the Twin Cities region to be more economically competitive in the future.



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