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(OPINION) Future Job Growth Demands Transit Options

Chamber leaders make their case for Southwest Light Rail Transit.

(Editor’s note: Todd Klingel is President of the Minneapolis Regional Chamber of Commerce. Matt Kramer is President of the Saint Paul Area Chamber of Commerce. Bruce Nustad is President of the TwinWest Chamber of Commerce. They submitted the following piece to Patch.)

 

In a recent opinion piece (“,” January 23), Mound City Councilmember David Osmek argues that the cost of extending the light rail system to the southwest suburbs is too high. But he ignores the dramatic costs of failing to provide much-needed transportation options in this critical corridor.

The southwest corridor, from Minneapolis through St. Louis Park, Hopkins, Edina, Minnetonka, and Eden Prairie, is projected to add 60,000 new jobs by 2030.  This area is home to a large number of leading companies including Comcast, UnitedHealth Group, SUPERVALU, and the Opus Group. 

The reality is that businesses will only stay and grow in our region if their future employees can get to work. Some parts of the west metro highway system can be expanded, but not enough to absorb 60,000 new commuters.  We need additional capacity in order to grow jobs in the Twin Cities and keep our community vibrant.

The organizations we lead represent 3,000 businesses, large and small, in the east and west metro. The business leaders we talk to every day agree that we need to have a cost-effective and efficient transportation system.  They also agree that light rail needs to be part of the mix. 

Following an open process beginning in 2002, a detailed alternatives analysis completed in 2008 looked at options that included doing nothing, “enhanced bus” (on existing roads), “bus rapid transit,” and “light rail.” All of these options were in addition to numerous additional highway improvements. The answer was clear and as a result a proposal for Southwest Light Rail Transit was submitted to the Federal Transit Administration. 

At the same time, more than 100 other regions applied for federal funding as part of a competitive process. Southwest LRT was one of 12 projects chosen from that group on a strict cost-effectiveness basis. 

Southwest LRT will be part of a network that will move people across the region from Eden Prairie to Minneapolis to St. Paul.  The current line – Hiawatha – has been so successful that ridership figures are already outpacing projections for eight years from now. The Central Corridor LRT project is on budget, ahead of schedule and will open in 2014. 

The study Mr. Osmek cites was written in 1999 using information that has now been proven wrong. In addition, no one should pretend that transit is subsidized, but roads aren’t. Since fiscal year 2008 Congress has transferred nearly $30 billion of general revenues to address shortfalls in the highway program.

This is a once in a generation opportunity to build a true multi-modal transportation network in the Twin Cities. Southwest LRT is a proven plan that leverages transit-specific county revenues and federal funds to add another transportation option. The business community – led by the TwinWest Chamber of Commerce, the Minneapolis Regional Chamber of Commerce and the Saint Paul Area Chamber of Commerce – supports Southwest LRT because we’ve taken a careful look at how to accommodate 60,000 new workers in this region and we believe this is the best way to do it. 

We also know that our region is competing with others for jobs – and increasingly companies are looking to locate in places with transit options – like Dallas, Salt Lake City and Portland. It’s time to keep our region positioned for growth by moving forward with Southwest LRT.     

 

Todd Klingel is President of the Minneapolis Regional Chamber of Commerce.  Matt Kramer is President of the Saint Paul Area Chamber of Commerce.  Bruce Nustad is President of the TwinWest Chamber of Commerce.

Kevin O'Donovan February 08, 2012 at 05:31 PM
I lived in Portland,Oregon when their light rail system was being developed. In the first year Multnomah County made a commitment, by providing reduced fares,no charge in one direction, and ran 24Hrs per day, 365 day a year system that guaranteed no waiting on transfers over 15 minutes, and reduced auto access to the downtown. It expanded the operation hours for Downtown nightclubs, invested in good lighting, and increased police foot patrols and both uniformed and plainclothes police on the trains and buses. Vandalism had severe consequences. It made downtown safe and attractive. Crime decreased. It got rid of unsavory elements. People who never used public transit grew to love it. The trains and buses went county wide and were always within three blocks of each other for easy access to pedestrians,even in the suburbs. This was not a Band Aid approach. It was comprehensive. Despite the fears of auto dealers, car sales rose dramatically, and Oregonians still trade cars more often than in most parts of the country. Then Mt. St. Helens blew. The public transit system functioned while many cars couldn't due to the fallout of ash. Life went on.
christine February 09, 2012 at 04:56 PM
Don't listen to anyone from the "Mound" Council! You should see what they have approved in the city of Mound...I am sooo ready to move! I for one have been waiting for the public transit to expand and I currently do not ride the bus etc.
Kevin O'Donovan February 09, 2012 at 07:08 PM
One big difference I failed to mention is that there are very few localities within a very large county. Another difference was the large amount of unimproved land that was available.
Joseph Lampe February 17, 2012 at 01:43 AM
I love transit, and my personal goal is to raise transit trip share from its present 2.5% of daily trips to 20% by 2030. Met Council's 2030 goal is to increase transit trips from the current 300,000 per day to 600,000. Meanwhile total trips by all travel modes will rise from 12 million per day to 14 million. We end up with 4.2% transit trip share after spending $5 billion on 5 LRT lines. The Twin Cities urban area is about 1225 sq miles. The 75 LRT stations in 2030 will each serve about one square mile, only 6% of the urban area. Result is that the 5 lines will provide only 1% of total 2030 trips. This is not an acceptable result, and it leaves a huge unmet need for urban mobility that cannot be met with autos, buses and LRT, no matter how much money is spent on them. The road building era is largely over, buses have a network but absurdly long trip times, and LRT costs too much and cannot attract large numbers of riders. Fiscal pressures at the state and federal levels will make it impossible for current high cost transit technologies to be meaningful parts of a solution to urban traffic congestion and mobility needs. Because government "does not do risky innovation" the private sector should be explicitly authorized to deploy new transit technology. 21st Century technology appears to be the only solution, with 1/8 the capital costs and 1/3 operating costs of LRT and vastly better service. See Wikipedia "Personal Rapid Transit." Join the "Coalition for 20% by 2030."

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