Editorial counterpoint: Road projects should drive transit fixes

  • Article by: BOB "AGAIN" CARNEY JR.
  • Updated: September 1, 2014 - 9:09 PM

Flexible bus system, more MnPass lanes would serve us better than light rail.

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The MTC buses were making the rounds on Nicollet Ave in downtown Minneapolis GENERAL INFORMATION: Minneapolis,MN. Monday 4/19/2004 The first buses began to roll out of the Nicollet Garage around 3:45 AM ORG XMIT: MIN2014082913581234

Photo: RICHARD SENNOTT • Star Tribune,

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The Star Tribune Editorial Board has been working overtime on transportation and transit. One recent editorial noted a $1 billion annual funding gap for transportation just to maintain our current infrastructure (“Transportation on the campaign trail,” Aug. 24). That editorial rightly says transportation and transit should be major issues in the coming election for governor and the Legislature.

Jeff Johnson, the Republican candidate for governor, is doing his part. I recently interviewed him about Southwest light rail (visit the YouTube bobagain channel). Johnson believes that light rail is not cost-effective and does not significantly reduce congestion. He wants to cancel Southwest.

A second editorial favored the Southwest light-rail line (“City, region would win with SWLRT,” Aug. 25). The earlier transportation editorial had noted that only 10 percent of the budget would come from the state. But it danced around the fact that 40 percent of the enormous total cost — about $650 million — would come from counties.

Here’s some relevant history: When the 2008 Legislature overrode Gov. Pawlenty’s veto and raised the gas tax, the bill included a county option to charge 0.25 percent more in sales tax. Five counties opted in. Each year they raise $100 million — available for bonding, but only for transit projects. Any county can also opt out before a project starts — and not pay a dime for, say, Southwest light rail. Counties that don’t opt out must pay their fair share of the full $650 ­million — for just one project.

Meanwhile, since 2005 the biggest Twin Cities transit success story isn’t light rail — it’s MnPass. SouthWest Transit relies on cost-effective, congestion- free MnPass lanes to offer 20-minute commuter runs from Eden Prairie to downtown Minneapolis. That’s twice as fast as the proposed Southwest light rail.

When we compare MnPass results with the slow, disruptive Central Corridor and the Southwest LRT boondoggle, our first step to meet Minnesota’s transportation needs is obvious. We must redirect the 2008 county bonding money away from light rail — to road projects with more MnPass lanes or other needed transit improvements, including wider, faster bus shoulders. Keep in mind: Rail and road projects are both eligible for federal matching dollars. Let’s also consider an earlier version of the 2008 bill that increased the sales tax by 0.5 percent — with all of the additional 0.25 percent dedicated to roads.

These steps alone would go a long way to providing an additional $1 billion a year in non-light-rail transportation dollars for the next several years.

Let’s consider transit equity.

SouthWest Transit’s Route 684 reverse commute Express stops at Lake Street/Interstate 35W, and then at Southdale. At Hwy. 62 and Shady Oak Road, it becomes a city bus, bringing people within walking distance of work for Golden Triangle and Eden Prairie Center businesses, before reaching Southwest Station.

Let’s extend this to north Minneapolis — with rush hour Metro Mobility-size buses running every five minutes on W. Broadway from Penn Avenue and from Stinson Boulevard to I-94. These buses would go to I-35W and follow the 684 route, with a new 46th Street Transit Station stop. A stop at Xerxes and the Crosstown, connected by shuttle to Southdale, can cut 10 minutes off all 684 Express trips. Here are the resulting links:

• All north-south bus routes in north and northeast Minneapolis.

• The entire south Minneapolis bus grid, via Lake and 46th Streets.

• The Southdale bus network.

• All Golden Triangle and Eden Prairie Center businesses.

When you factor in bus travel time to the proposed Southwest light rail, the average time to the Golden Triangle would be about the same.

We can implement this inexpensive approach to transit equity in a matter of months — with zero bulldozers.

Flexible bus transit is 20th century — but inflexible rail is 19th century. If we set our course toward a point-to-point small bus system with five-minute service frequency, we will create thousands of local part-time jobs in the short term. When we add more MnPass lanes, better bus shoulders and Car2Go to the mix, this flexible, rapidly innovating system will significantly reduce congestion.

When automated driving arrives — and it will — our small bus system with five-minute service can morph into something light rail can never be: an economical and truly 21st-century system.

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