Buses, or even bus rapid transit, are less efficient, and won't attract federal help.
The March 10 article "Critics rail about state money for Southwest light-rail line" repeats questions about how best to serve the booming number of jobs in the southwest part of the Twin Cities.
Fortunately, these questions have been answered -- a result of a thorough cost-effectiveness analysis.
A detailed Southwest Corridor Alternatives Analysis completed in 2008 looked at options for this corridor, including doing nothing, enhanced bus (on existing roads), bus rapid transit (buses on their own right of way), and light rail.
Each of these options was considered in addition to numerous highway improvements. The answer was clear: Light-rail transit would be the best and most cost-effective addition to the southwest metro's transportation system for three reasons:
Roads detour, LRT goes straight. Express buses on existing highways would have to go the long way around, and could not take advantage of the shorter, direct route that the new light rail right-of-way will use.
Bus Rapid Transit: Most of the capital costs, few of the efficiencies. BRT would incur the cost of a new right-of-way without the operational savings of rail. The tremendous job growth in the southwest corridor means there will be high ridership on this line. That level of ridership is best served by high-capacity trains. A single-driver train can carry as many riders as eight buses, so LRT will have far lower operating costs than buses. This is exactly what we see today; our transit system's lowest operating costs per passenger are on Hiawatha LRT, not on buses.
Because BRT is not cost-effective, it would not qualify for federal funds. The competition for federal funding is fierce, so the Federal Transit Administration has established thresholds for eligibility. The Southwest Corridor Alternatives Analysis found that BRT would not clear this threshold, but that LRT would.
The cities and businesses in the southwest that participated in the analysis agreed. The resulting proposal for Southwest Light Rail Transit submitted to the Federal Transit Administration beat out 90 applicants from around the country, and is now in line for $625 million in federal funds. A bus rapid transit application would receive no federal funding.
The southwest metro is expected to add 60,000 jobs between now and 2030, but those jobs will only come if we have a transportation system capable of getting people to and from work.
The question of how best to serve those jobs and improve our region's transportation system isn't an either/or question and it isn't ideological. LRT is the most cost-effective choice.
That's why our organizations, representing more than 3,000 large and small businesses, are working hard to make sure the state takes an important step to combat congestion and fuel job growth this year by providing funding for Southwest LRT.
Todd Klingel is president of the Minneapolis Regional Chamber of Commerce. Matt Kramer is president of the Saint Paul Area Chamber of Commerce. Bruce Nustad is president of the TwinWest Chamber of Commerce.