Some politicians and editorial boards ("Move forward with transit investments, Jan. 19) are happy to jump on the bandwagon for the next extension of light rail in Minnesota, the Southwest line. But what are the true costs? And can we afford it?
Using the Met Council's 2010 report, the cost of a single ride on the Hiawatha light-rail line is $2.46. Riders pay only 99 cents of this cost, leaving almost 60 percent to be subsidized by the public.
But this is not the true cost of a ride, as it does not include the 30-year amortized costs of bonding for the build-out of the line. Adding those costs in, at a 4 percent bond interest rate, a single ride actually costs $6.42, which means each ride is subsidized by 85 percent.
If a family of four rides the Hiawatha Line to a Twins game, the public is paying a total of $43.36, while the riders are contributing $3.96.
Right now, we are paying over $15 million each year to keep the Hiawatha Line operating. Adding in the amortized costs of building the line, it's more than $56 million in taxpayer dollars each year. Yes, some of the costs were federally funded, and other revenue streams are bearing some of the burden. But with trillions of dollars of deficit spending, do we really want to add to the debt that future generations will pay for decades to come?
Using the Hiawatha Line as a model, let's project the costs of the Central Corridor and Southwest lines. Assuming the same level of revenue from ridership and operating costs, the Central Corridor will require more than $17 million each year in operating subsidy and more than $55 million a year for the amortized costs. The new Southwest line will require more than $12 million in operating subsidy with more than $72 million in amortized costs. And don't forget about Northstar commuter rail, which has an annual operating subsidy of over $13 million, with amortized costs of over $18 million.Once all four lines are in operation, the public will pay more than $58 million each year to just operate the lines. The actual costs, with the amortized build-out costs included, is just short of a quarter of a billion dollars each year.
This is for a mode of transportation that, in my opinion, has a negligible effect on traffic congestion and would be more economically provided by existing bus service. Even worse, we are taking money away from building or rebuilding critical highway infrastructure needs to operate this incredibly expensive mode of transportation. Starving the rest of our transportation system in favor of a more expensive, less efficient and totally inflexible light-rail system is the epitome of politics trumping common sense.
Proponents will cite the fact that light rail will create jobs. But so will building lane miles and bridges. Minnesota Department of Transportation studies have proven that roads have a benefit/cost ratio greater than one, meaning that the economic benefit of a project outweighs the actual cost of the improvement and will pay for itself over time. Most road and bridge projects have ratios of three or four, meaning that $3 or $4 of calculated value is returned for every dollar of costs. The Hiawatha Line was projected at 0.42 in 1999, meaning that for every dollar spent, we receive 42 cents in value.
When you look at the costs, building more light rail lines is nothing short of a money pit that will bankrupt our state and our nation. It is time to cut our losses and stop this madness.
David Osmek is a member of the Mound City Council and a Republican candidate for the state Senate.