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How Should Southwest LRT Be Funded?

With several proposals before the Legislature, Patch wants to know what ideas, if any, you favor.

Last legislative session, the big question about Southwest Light Rail Transit was whether there was enough political will to fund the project. The tables appear to have turned this year, though. With at least three funding proposals floating around, the focus has lately been more on how to fund it than whether it deserves any money.

Edina Sen. Melisa Franzen (DFL-District 49) introduced Senate File 257 and Senate File 258, which would provide $118 million and $37 million, respectively, in bonding money for the 15-mile light rail project.

Watch Franzen explain her bills in the YouTube video above.

Gov. Mark Dayton, on the other hand, has proposed a quarter-cent sales tax increase that would set up a dedicated revenue stream for transit—some of which would likely going toward the Southwest project.

The competing proposals have forced transit legislators to take a hard look at the best path forward. On Friday, Minnetonka Sen. Terri Bonoff (DFL-District 44) told Finance & Commerce that bonding is the best option because sales taxes are more appropriate for immediate needs, not long-term investments. (Bonoff added that she doesn’t think the state should bond for the full $118 million that remains of the state share because she doesn’t think it makes sense to borrow money until it’s needed.)

However, fans of Dayton’s transit tax increase like that it creates a dedicated funding stream for transit and remove it from the hands of the Legislature—where it’s sparked intense debate and faced repeated setbacks.

Patch wants to know how you think Southwest LRT should be funded. Are you willing to pay a higher transit tax? Do you think the state should borrow the money? Is Southwest LRT even worth funding? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

Kevin Crosby February 11, 2013 at 12:31 PM
End this debacle now before any more tax payer money is wasted. I'm not interested in creating free transportation for inner city gangs to come to the suburbs.
Andrew Brown February 11, 2013 at 02:58 PM
Kevin- Your comment is completely inapropriate. Feel free to join any of my 330,000 friends morning, noon and night, stuck on Hwy 100 each day.
James Ishmael February 11, 2013 at 06:45 PM
When the Light Rail picks me up at my home and takes me to the places I need to go, then build it, until then the Metro buses work just fine. Bonding bills are expense , because the government pays interest on these, and since they are Munies, they tend to be tax free income for those that buy these bonds. We don't need it, and never did!
Andrew Brown February 11, 2013 at 09:09 PM
James- There is only 1 lane from from Hwy 100 North to 394 East/Downtown and only a one lane exit from 394 East to 94 East and St.Paul. All of which have to be used by the Bus system. I'm pretty sure it would be more expensive to buy out Benilde High School, Westside VW, Dunwoody Tech, and the Basillica for more lanes than it would be to just put in SW Rail. I spend 2 weeks vacation sitting in traffic per year, that's my entire vacation time per year sitting in traffic. This is about jobs and getting people more time in their lives instead of looking at red tail lights all day
Norman Teigen February 11, 2013 at 10:05 PM
I think that LRT is vitally important for the continuing economic development of the SW suburbs. SW LRT is one important part of an overall transportation plan for the metro. How about a combination bonding plan along with sales tax? It is an investment for the future.
Mike E February 11, 2013 at 10:45 PM
James - if you move to the SW Transit Station apartments the light rail will pick you up. You can choose to live closer to the transit stations and/or your job.
Mike E February 11, 2013 at 10:46 PM
Your comment makes me embarrassed for you.
Mike E February 11, 2013 at 10:47 PM
Completely agree. The SW burbs are highly desirable for people and businesses. This will add to it and ensure long term viability.
Joseph Lampe February 15, 2013 at 05:34 AM
In 2030 total daily metro-area trips via all modes will be about 14 million. Five LRT lines would deliver only about 150,000 daily rides. If the five lines are built, just 1.1% of daily trips in 2030 will be on LRT (150,000 / 14,000,000). The five LRT lines would have about 75 stations, each drawing riders from perhaps one square mile. Our metro area contains about 1,225 square miles (35 X 35 mi). Thus, only 6.1% of the metro area would have access to LRT (75/1,225). Transit ridership and mode share are determined by the number and locations of origin/destination pairs, walk time, wait time, ride time, transfer time, fare, convenience, etc. Few stations results in few riders. Five LRT lines will cost at least $5 billion. Worse, by 2030 Met Council estimates that the transit subsidy will be about $500 million per year. After all of this expenditure, transit trip share would be only 4.3%. Many lane miles of roads could be built for $500 million per year, and no amount of money spent on current technology transit systems can significantly increase ridership. The Met Council’s traffic flow maps demonstrate the mismatch of LRT routes to our metro travel patterns. Most jobs are not downtown, and it is nearly impossible to get to a job in another suburb by transit that is auto competitive. Take a look at http://www.en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Personal_rapid_transit for an overview of a transit technology that can increase transit ridership to 20% of daily metro-area trips.
James Ishmael February 15, 2013 at 02:19 PM
Yes, Mr. Lampe, I agree. I have nothing against the Light Rail, if it would do only one half of what it promises, but it will not. It's costs out weigh its value. Build it from St. Cloud and other Minnesota towns 75 miles or more from the Metro to the present Metro Stations. You are a ray of hope on this cloudy issue.
David March 06, 2013 at 10:58 PM
As another posted commented about light rail during the last campaign, some questions for those supporting this boondoggle: Part 1: Can you share with us which transit system line in the state is operating in the black without taxpayer subsidies? Or name any in the five state area that are operating in the black? Can you point out any real economic activity? Specifically, provide examples of newly operating “powerful economic engines” that exist where LRT is operating today? If there was to be all this economic activity, wouldn’t you think private enterprise would already be willing to support the cost of a train? As a taxpayer, I am not getting sucked in again over empty promises. In fact, I am still waiting to see that “powerful economic activity and redevelopment” around the HHH Metrodome promised by WCCO Sports reporter, Sid Hartman and others, in the early 80’s. Other than a bar named Hubert’s, the economic activity in that area looks sort of thin. It is apparent to many taxpayers that the Met Council is simply replacing existing bus routes, some successful and some not, which is hardly a recipe for new self-sufficient development.
David March 06, 2013 at 10:59 PM
part two: Who is auditing the estimated ridership numbers for 2030? The Met Council? Or is it other faceless special interests of LRT? Bold assertions were also made at the start of the Central Corridor, yet it appears to need subsidized tickets to maintain ridership. I believe these subsidies are a direct result of LRT failing to meet ridership estimations. The taxpayers are left with the bill. Even if ridership meets that quota, can anyone explain why the opportunity cost comparison of busses appear to be MIA? Anyone disagree with the obvious fact that buses can do the same job (transportation) at a fraction of cost of $1.2BB train route? (Has anyone even heard of a billion dollar bus proposal?) Wonder why? Why is no one putting a number on the efficiency of capital usage comparing trains vs busses? It doesn’t exactly take a transportation engineer to realize the ROI of capital spent on busses is significant better vs capital spent on trains. ROI Example: we can easily reallocate underutilized busses to other routes for maximum capital usage. During slow periods, we can reallocate or using DFL’s favorite word, easily ‘redistribute’ buses. ROI Example: Speed to adjust: Bus transit management can respond within the hour to move transit capital to new areas where the specific need exists. (ie. State Fair Time or highway construction, bridge repair)
David March 06, 2013 at 10:59 PM
LRT Proponents will say you can move train assets, too, but can you move a train for less than the cost of a quarter tank of gas? It is all about opportunity cost. What about the 800 pound gorilla in the Met Council Chamber? What do you do with a train and tracks and depots when the demographic need changes? If we maintain a bus system, you can simply change the bus route. Ever try to change railroad tracks and bridges? Imagine the horror if the same people that designed US169 are in charge of this. It has been almost 18 years and MNDOT is still ‘fixing’ 169 to make it drivable. Again, taxpayers getting stuck with the tab. How many believe if we build the train once, the train exists permanently forever? Let’s not even get into the repair and replacement cost of infrastructure due to frost wedging. The train infrastructure will deteriorate like our MN roads, whether they are used or not. Taxpayers again will be on the hook for replacing every bolt, track & bridge. Even if 75% of road traffic is removed from city streets, deterioration issues with roads still occur and MN taxpayers will need to continue to pay for repairs of roads in addition to rail infrastructure. Is there Federal financial help already lined up to pay for replacement maintenance in the out years? In 1982, how many of you thought we would have been replacing the Metrodome? I didn’t.
David March 06, 2013 at 11:00 PM
There is no "Free Money" from the Federal government for this. Neither the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) nor does the Federal Government create wealth. Only productive taxpayers create wealth through work, productivity and savings. The state is constantly fighting deficits. They are worse with Dayton at the helm passing out goodies to his cronies and special interests. The last time I looked the Federal Government is 16 Trillion in debt, that is $16,000,000,000,000!!! But that is concern for future email. In short, what does a train do that a bus cannot do at a fraction of the cost? Until these questions are answered and fully understood, discussed and debated by the taxpayers there should no approval to move forward.

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