Dear Representative Beard and Senator Gimse,
I am writing today to share my deep disappointment under your leadership to not advocate and provide funding for the Southwest Light Rail Transit project in the 2012 bonding bill. This was a terrible omission and mistake, and while it was lobbied hard by the business community adjacent to the SWLRT line and supported by signed proclamations by every city on the line (Minneapolis, St. Louis Park, Hopkins, Minnetonka, Edina, Eden Prairie) it was a tragic decision this project was not funded at the $25 million level as requested.
We have a top-10 transportation project out of 100 programs underway within the entire nation and you simply do not get on that A-team list by not knowing what you are doing, nor more importantly justifying yourselves financially, operationally, and return on investment wise with the Federal Transportation Administration. Their reviews of programs like this are both deep and rigorous and, as such, you simply can not attain the level of approval for entry into Preliminary Engineering without having gone through thousands of hours of design reviews, cost reviews, program scope reviews, legislative reviews and means testing to meet or exceed all the cost effectiveness indexes.
We are blessed here and have been told by the FTA that we have one of the very best program management offices in the country within our Met Council group, in particular Mark Fuhrman, the managing director. Mark is well known both in Washington, D.C., as well as across the international community when it comes to his and the staff's level of professional expertise and management when it comes to managing rail programs. With such an exemplary team in place it is unbelievably disappointing we continue to block inevitable progress to help unburden the transportation challenges we have in our community, our state and, more importantly, our nation.
Think about this, no one can get to a job, move products and services, travel to classes at a university or enjoy an evening out with entertainment without taking some mode of transportation. Putting in place a cost-effective, easy to use and understood transportation network involving light rail makes sense for not only current generations but future ones as well. Think about it, 20 years ago we did not have iPhones, tablets, BlackBerrys, free email, the Internet, satellite uplinks to watch television from all points of the globe, and GPS navigation for our planes, boats and autos around the world. But we have all these technologies today, and one of the fundamental reasons is we made it just a little easier for people to get to and from educational institutions, high technology firms and advanced research centers so they could bring these innovative products to market. What we thought we would need 20 years ago is very different from what we actually have now. And much of that was facilitated by helping people get to jobs and education seamlessly.
I do know one thing though; simply laying down more concrete, asphalt and bridges for more cars to drive on cannot solve the demands of our transit infrastructure. This is an unsustainable model both fiscally and energy wise, and everyone knows it. What we need is a comprehensive transit and energy plan for our country, and while I do not see that happening anytime soon, I would like to think we could at least take care of our own backyard here in Minnesota. Having effective, safe and seamless mass transit utilizing bus rapid transit and LRT is really an exemplary way for us to invest our fiscal as well as intellectual capital in the future.
I realize this session is done. It was not the most productive one when it came to moving the ball down the field. We need to do this better. We need to focus on the long term needs of future generations, the generations who will look back on these moments and say, "Boy they really did this transit right" in lieu of, "They had their chance and totally blew it."
It is my sincere hope and expectation we can regroup for the 2013 Legislative session and take up this topic again. I can assure you I and many others who are presently working so hard on the SWLRT project will be advocating and working diligently to move this project forward in a thoughtful and cost effective manner benefiting generations to come. It is also my sincere hope that we will have the support of the legislature and the governor at that time so we can look those future generations in the eye and say to them, "Yes, we did do it right."
William L. James III
SWLRT Community Advisory Committee
Corridor Management Committee Representative
St Louis Park, MN