The Twin Cities are prospering, poised to continue growing thanks in part to our region’s investments in transit infrastructure.
Nine consecutive years of solid economic growth shows that the Twin Cities area recovered from the Great Recession stronger and faster than did most American communities.
However, success can bring challenges: An affordable-housing shortage has led to an increase in homelessness; the opioid epidemic and the burdens of addiction continue to grip countless families, and resources for those suffering from mental illness are stretched. These social issues all have contributed to significant human-services challenges for our region.
Unfortunately, our transit system bears a significant impact from these issues. As the Star Tribune Editorial Board noted in “Keep St. Paul safe” (Oct. 25), it’s time to act — and no single entity can do it alone.
Recently, I convened 40 city, county, state, business and nonprofit leaders from Ramsey and Hennepin counties to discuss strategies for keeping the Green Line light-rail transit corridor safe, successful and welcoming for all transit users. Many of these same leaders helped to build this successful LRT line.
The Green Line is now five years into providing enhanced, reliable transit service for more than 40,000 riders daily, exceeding projections for ridership in 2030. This line is a resounding success worth every dollar of public investment. As the backbone of Metro Transit, the Green Line is depended upon by residents and visitors alike to get to and from home, work, school, shopping, entertainment, sporting events and more. Transit is not a luxury; it is essential to our quality of life in the Twin Cities.
An added success of public investment in this critical infrastructure is the unleashing of billions of dollars in private-sector investment along the corridor. Thousands of housing units are being built. New employers are choosing to locate along the corridor. Notably, Minnesota United, the Minnesota Twins, Minnesota Vikings and St. Paul Saints designed and built new stadiums that allow their fans to connect on the Green Line.
However, as the Green Line’s successes grow, social challenges and troubling behaviors have arisen that are incompatible with an effective transit system. Families, students, commuters and visitors all want a clean, safe and comfortable experience on the Green Line.
However, being confined in a rail car with people high on drugs or alcohol or engaging in behaviors that are rude or threatening is unsettling or even frightening. I know there are times I’ve felt this way.
This is unacceptable. Our community’s values require us to come together to adequately address the crises of homelessness, drug addiction and public safety. At the same time, these challenges cannot derail the mission of the Green Line — delivering riders to their destination efficiently and safely.
We can’t leave these issues to the Metropolitan Council (which oversees Metro Transit) or to law enforcement to handle alone. They are the result of complex factors, including inadequate funding for human services, education, structural inequality and growing pressures on the availability of affordable housing.
We must act with the urgency and the resources required to solve these challenges.
The solutions will come from our community. Local leaders must lead the way. Just as we came together to play our roles at the inception of the Green Line, it’s again time to come together to ensure that our community investment continues to pay dividends for all the residents, visitors, employees and businesses we serve.
As our region prepares to spend billions of additional dollars to extend the Green Line further into the west metro, we need solutions in St. Paul and Minneapolis, or these unresolved issues will be exported to Hopkins, Minnetonka and Eden Prairie.
I believe every transit rider deserves a positive experience. Behaviors that are inappropriate or illegal must be properly addressed.
Metro Transit and its partners must have the personnel and resources to encourage and enforce appropriate behavior.
We need government, businesses and nonprofits collaborating in partnership to invest in sustaining the Green Line’s success while addressing these challenges.
I stand ready as a federal partner with community leaders from Hennepin and Ramsey counties on a strategy to invest in the next chapter of the Green Line LRT and a robust transit system that meets the needs of a successful, thriving metropolitan community today and into the future.
Betty McCollum represents Minnesota’s Fourth District in the U.S. House.