Those who wildly support Gov. Mark Dayton’s obsession with Southwest light rail would like to blame opposition on the House majority. But consider other rail issues for perspective. “Zip Rail” — a high-speed line between the Twin Cities and Rochester — also was opposed, especially in Goodhue County, where it would have sliced through farm country without even stopping. The project died under a blizzard of grass-roots opposition. We hear stories that many NIMBY people in upscale neighborhoods around Lake of the Isles also violently resist Southwest light rail and its high cost.
Dakota County opted not to have any uneconomical light rail but has opted for the Cedar Avenue busway public-transit alternative. Also consider that a recent $42 million rail upgrade from Northfield in Rice County to Randolph in Dakota County serves a new unit train grain loading facility. An 11-mile rebuild of the railroad north from Randolph to the Pine Bend refinery could create a nearly straight rail route from Owatonna to Northfield, Randoph, Pine Bend and on to St Paul. Such enhancements of existing rails to support light-rail passenger service and freight service that supports job growth could well attract Republican support in the Legislature from outstate.
Meanwhile, it is clearly entirely the intransigence of Dayton and the DFL Senate majority holding a bonding session hostage to pouring money into a Southwest line that gives no benefits to citizens outstate is a problem that will not help the DFL on Nov. 8.
Doug Jones, Nerstrand, Minn.
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In an Aug. 19 editorial counterpoint (“The ‘transit impasse,’ truth be told, has Minneapolis acting like a brat”), Fritz Knaak says that “rail advocates have been unable to point to any measurable impact on congestion in the metro area as the result of the billions already being spent on rail … .”
This is, of course, an all-too-effective diversion from the true value and purpose of light rail. As has been proven, it is impossible to eliminate traffic congestion by building more freeway lanes, and it is probably impossible to do it by building transit. Despite alternatives, a seemingly endless number of people will insist on driving despite high levels of inconvenience. Even if “build, baby, build” did work, the metro area may be approaching a traffic volume limit because housing, businesses and other valuable infrastructure are in the way of road expansion. An example (among many) is the Lowry Hill Tunnel, causing backups stretching from Interstate 94 onto I-394 and I35-W almost continually.
The value in light rail is that it facilitates a new kind of population growth less dependent on driving. The proof Knaak demands to support transit is the recent astounding increase in quality high-density housing construction near rail lines. If that housing and a lifestyle adjustment doesn’t appeal to every car commuter backed up now, it will to some and to many new Twin Citians who will bring middle-class growth and vitality to the metro and state. The even-greater-than-expected light-rail ridership figures (more real proof for Knaak) indicate that transit is filling a need. Business support for rail transit is another reason Republicans like Knaak should change to a more constructive stance.
D.C. Smith, Minneapolis
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The two Aug. 24 Opinion Exchange articles about light rail represented unsuccessful attempts to solve 21st-century transportation problems with 19th-century technology and 1930s political thinking. Apparently, our political and public elite think Minnesota’s transportation and economic challenges will be solved with $1.9 billion spent on technology that will quickly become outdated, inflexible, and very expensive to maintain and operate. In fewer than 30 to 35 years, we will be debating proposals to pave over light-rail tracks, converting them to high-occupancy vehicle (HOV) lanes used by smaller and more flexible driverless electric and hybrid vehicles. The House is right in refusing to allow our transportation dollars to be wasted by those who have very narrow political and social-engineering ulterior motives to the detriment of citizens living outside the Minneapolis-St. Paul city limits.
Stephen Kania, Crystal
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I have been following the Southwest project for a long time, have attended countless public meetings, have read numerous reports, and have talked to many local officials and residents along the proposed route. I support the line but understand the legitimate concerns people have. All large transportation projects are disruptive, and we need to listen to those being affected, understand their viewpoints and address concerns where possible.
However, I do want to correct a frequent misleading complaint, most recently put forward by an Aug. 25 letter writer who states that “prime urban parkland” should not be disturbed for light rail. What he fails to mention is that this “urban parkland” is in fact an active freight-rail line and has been since before people have been living next to it, before Lake of the Isles as we know it existed and before anyone had even considered putting a park in the area. The corridor was purchased by Hennepin County for the express purpose of using it for rail transit. Signs have been posted to that effect for decades. As recently as the early 1980s, there was a very large freight-rail yard right in the corridor. St. Louis Avenue is named for the railroad company that built the corridor, and Depot Street recalls that passenger rail, too, traveled through this area.
I support maintaining a “parklike” atmosphere for cyclists and pedestrians. But let’s not cheapen that discussion with easily discredited claims.
David Greene, Minneapolis
EPIPEN PRICE HIKE
No lipstick on this pig
Mylan doesn’t believe that raising the price of EpiPens 600 percent causes problems. The company is providing $300 rebate vouchers for those who have to pay the entire price themselves. Mylan says that insurance companies pick up the price for the rest of us, so we shouldn’t worry about steep increases in prices. Well, we all pay the price in higher insurance costs. Insurance companies will pass that extra cost on via higher premiums and higher deductibles. That’s part of why insurance costs are so out of control. Mylan and other companies like it believe it’s a victimless crime when they raise rates astronomically. In the finance world, that’s called usury. In my world, I call it gouging.
Barbara Burkey, Roseville
Tax break? I call foul
State Rep. Pat Garofalo, R-Farmington, plans to introduce a bill to exempt our Olympic athletes from income taxes on the money they earn participating in the Games. The last I checked, being an Olympic athlete is completely voluntary. Yes, they represent the U.S., but also themselves. If successful, they can almost certainly expect to be rewarded with accolades and endorsement money. They do not nor should they be given special tax breaks.
I was drafted at the height of the Vietnam War as a private (not a volunteer), earned a whopping $99 a month and had to pay income taxes. I and millions of other draftees brought great credit upon ourselves and the U.S. government. But we still had to pay our taxes. No special treatment for Olympic athletes. Their service is no greater than mine.
John Debby, Minnetonka
TRADE AND IMMIGRATION
Sorry, but we know Trump
Michael Printy Arthur needed just one more small piece of research for his Aug. 25 article on why progressives who want to help Mexico’s “least fortunate” should consider Donald Trump. Ironically, Arthur writes in what he thinks is a clever close to his piece: “Instead of waving a Mexican flag outside the next Trump rally in protest, they’ll wave it inside the rally in support.” Several people who have done that very thing have been thrown out of Trump rallies with Trumpers shoving them, screaming racist epithets and spitting at them.
The Trumpers know where Trump stands on all issues Mexican. He’s made it a pillar of his campaign since the day he announced his candidacy.
Kevin Driscoll, St. Paul