Two major transit projects recently in the news -- the Southwest Corridor light-rail line and the Cedar Avenue bus rapid-transit line -- represent the kind of transit advances that can help unclog roads and keep the Twin Cities competitive with other metro areas.
Both projects are progressing, but both still face funding and approval hurdles that must be addressed by key leaders in government and business.
The biggest recent step forward came for the proposed Southwest Corridor light-rail line. The Federal Transit Administration (FTA) gave its approval for preliminary engineering of the 15-mile line that would connect 17 stations spanning Eden Prairie, Minnetonka, Hopkins, St. Louis Park and the Target Field Station in Minneapolis, then connect with the Central Corridor light-rail line.
As one of only 12 projects to achieve this FTA status, it greatly improves the chances for federal funds to pay for half of the $1.25 billion line. The other half would be paid from three other sources: the County Transit Improvement Board's five-county sales tax (30 percent), the Hennepin County Regional Rail Authority (10 percent), and the state of Minnesota (10 percent).
The FTA has included a requirement that the thorny issue of relocating a freight-rail line from Minneapolis to St. Louis Park must be addressed, "regardless of the funding sources that may be identified to pay for the work."
This may sound familiar to those who followed the litigious disputes between the Metropolitan Council and the University of Minnesota and Minnesota Public Radio that threatened to derail the Central Corridor light-rail line that's currently under construction. In order to avoid similar crises, key leaders should be proactive in finding a reasonable resolution that addresses the justifiable safety concerns of many St. Louis Park residents.
The other transit project -- the $112 million Cedar Avenue bus rapid-transit (BRT) line -- is expected to open in November 2012, but an ill-timed state budget cut left the project with an operating shortfall of up to a $1 million. The shortfall threatens to delay or prevent payments for operations, including buses.
While Met Council Chair Susan Haigh is confident that ongoing discussions with Dakota County officials will ensure that the money will be found and the line will be opened on time, the shortfall is the result of the budget deal that ended the state shutdown and cut $51.8 million from transit funding.
While this was a better outcome than previous proposals, Republican legislators balked at paying for transit in the Twin Cities.
It's a shame GOP legislators don't listen more closely to the business community they often purport to represent. The Minneapolis and St. Paul Chambers of Commerce, among other business interests, have repeatedly endorsed expanding transit to keep the Twin Cities competitive.
The preliminary engineering approval for the light-rail line is progress, and we share Haigh's optimism that the BRT funding gap can be closed.
But until both projects are completed, they'll need even more attention from key leaders in the public and private sectors.
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