Thursday, May 25, 2006

Fast train to irrelevancy

The state legislative session has ended, and the big news (as far as I'm concerned) is that the Central Corridor extension of the light rail system is on the front burner, and drawing strong public support.

Those who testified were asked to comment on a recently completed draft environmental impact study, and to say which transit option they want. Should light rail or bus rapid transit be the mode of transportation along University Ave.? Or do citizens want the status quo and keep the avenue the way it is, with car and bus traffic?

Overwhelmingly, those who testified said they wanted something different, and that light rail is their preferred mode.

Even more pleasant, from my point of view, is how marginalized the Taxpayers League has become on this and other issues.

The League, apparently undeterred by the unqualified success of the Hiawatha line, opposes the Central Corridor extension.

(They also oppose the Northstar Commuter Rail. Their analysis is flawed to start with -- subjecting rail lines to cost-benefit analyses that they don't direct at roads -- and their "build more roads" solution fails the history test.)

Why do they oppose the Central Corridor? They cite the cost, a negligable impact on traffic congestion and opposition by many business owners along the proposed route.

But the cost will be amortized over many years and many, many riders. And the point of light rail is to provide transportation options and slow the growth of traffic congestion; the Met Council, for instance, has never claimed that it would greatly reduce congestion.

And most business owners are concerned about business disruption during construction of the line; they're not opposed to the existence of the line itself. The loss of 660 parking spaces is a minor concern, since the line would carry far more people than that each day. It should be a boon for business, not a liability.

That might be why the Minneapolis Regional Chamber of Commerce supports the line. Apparently the Taxpayers League doesn't speak for most business owners.

But then, they never did. They've always represented a small and secretive cadre of backers. Their political influence peaked during the last gubernatorial election (with their "no new taxes" pledge). But then politicians got burned by that pledge, and the public support for mass transit projects became apparent. More directly, their credibility collapsed as their "solutions" became increasingly nonserious. Remember the transit strike, and the League's suggestion that it would be cheaper to buy every poor person a used car?

If we want the Twin Cities to grow in a sensible fashion, it needs to grow with mass transit in mind. And that means having the mass transit systems in place. It would be far more expensive and disruptive to wait another 10 or 20 years and try to graft a mass transit system on to a metro area that grew without regard for such a system. Focusing on the short-term costs is shortsighted. We're building for the future, and doing it with narrow, high-capacity rail lines instead of four-lane highways. It's smart, it's forward-looking and it exposes the pennywise nature of the Taxpayer's League.

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Blogger Andrew said...

Great post, I especially liked tthe criticism of the Tax Payers League, all who don't want to pay taxes lol

5/29/2006 11:32 PM  

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