This project is not yet ready for prime time

Thank you for the article about the soaring costs of Southwest light-rail transit proposals, particularly as they relate to the routing or rerouting of freight trains (“Southwest rail costs soar,” July 18). While the potential financial impacts may create political challenges, the neighborhoods struggling with this issue are also concerned about impacts that are harder to quantify.

Minneapolis residents want to preserve green space and a bike trail heavily used by people throughout the metro area. St. Louis Park is considering how a 20-foot earthen berm that would separate trains from car traffic might also divide our city down the middle. Angry advocates on both sides are trying to talk over one another. Absent from the debate are any tangible details about the likely benefits of a new light-rail line. I believe that the Southwest line will encourage public and private investments in our communities, but that belief is being tested as I witness people minimizing the concerns of others. If we cannot find a way to rise above our own self-interests and balance the needs of people who live in all five cities along the Southwest Corridor, the availability of public funds should be the least of our concerns.


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The southwest suburbs have lived with freeway gridlock for a generation that spills onto Minneapolis streets. Hennepin County wisely bought railroad right of way back in 1984 to provide a direct, inexpensive route for a light-rail line to Hopkins and Eden Prairie to help alleviate this congestion. However, the Minnesota Department of Transportation created a monster in 2001 by closing the freight-rail connection across Hiawatha Avenue. Now, the added cost to support freight service to western Minnesota, along with threatened lawsuits by residents in the Kenwood neighborhood and in St. Louis Park, threaten to kill the Southwest light-rail project. This must not be allowed to happen.

The preferred route through Kenwood does not serve Minneapolis residents very well and does not provide enough space for both light-rail and freight-rail tracks. The threatened lawsuits could tie up the project for years. A better alignment would continue east along the former railroad route to Lyndale or Nicollet Avenues, then head north into downtown via a Hennepin Avenue transit mall. That would serve more people, avoid conflicts with freight trains, possibly complement future streetcar lines and save cost to build the Southwest line.


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Imagine pipeline as many exhaust pipes

Here’s an example of the outcomes that the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission has knowingly allowed in granting approval to Enbridge Energy’s plans to boost the capacity of its Alberta Clipper pipeline in Minnesota (“Oil pipeline from Canada gets state OK for expansion,” July 18): Consuming the planned 120,000-­barrel-per-day increment of tar sands oil will inject an additional 26 million metric tons per year of climate-upsetting greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. This is the equivalent of the combined exhausts of 5.5 million continuously operating cars. Are today’s droughts, floods, wildfires and tropical storms not severe enough to satisfy these people?


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Administrative costs remain an issue

The July 16 editorial (“Smart reforms on health plan costs”) essentially recommends that we “move along — there is nothing to see here.”

Actually, there is plenty that the public has been disallowed from seeing in the funding of state-funded health care. Since Minnesota privatized its health care programs more than 20 years ago, state overseers have been disallowed from auditing critical data held by our familiar health plans. They hold their paid claims records secret from state auditors for fear of revealing how much they are profiting at the public trough. This accusation is confirmed by independent auditors retained by the state to lift the financial curtain.

The editorial also buys the health plans’ line that our expense woes stem from an increase in treatment costs. Costs certainly are rising, but they are not what distinguishes American health care, in Minnesota or any other state. The administrative costs to feed our gaggle of private health plans, called “fragmentation” in the field, is what distinguishes us. Thirty-one cents of every dollar you and I send to the private health plans are wasted on administrative overhead.

The frustrating thing is that none of this expensive nonsense is necessary. We could cut out the costly health plan middlemen and provide direct service from a fund shared by all Minnesotans. We would thereby save money, yet cover everyone. A current legislative proposal, the Minnesota Health Plan, would do just that.


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Most employees knew concessions were needed

The July 17 Letter of the Day (“Twinkies return, this time as canary in coal mine”) overlooked a few minor facts about the demise of Hostess. I worked for the company for 10 years and have a little different take on what happened. As Hostess was coming out of bankruptcy, most of the employees and the unions representing them recognized that the company was struggling and agreed to concessions to keep the bakeries operating in the hope they could become profitable again — all except the bakers union (about 2 percent of the workforce), whose members’ greed got the best of them as they voted to strike, effectively shutting down the company and putting their union brethren out of work.


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Fewer appointments should need sign-off

The main problem with nominations to federal posts is not so much how long they take, or the obstructions caused by one party against the other, but the fact that so many posts need Senate approval. It makes sense to have the Cabinet posts that report directly to the president be reviewed by the Senate, but after that all posts below Cabinet level should be able to be appointed without review. If the president was elected, why can’t he/she be trusted to make appointments to federal posts?