(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.