Editor’s Note: The following guest column was submitted by Dan Duffy, principal with Daniel K. Duffy Architects, Inc. in Minnetonka. Duffy served on the Southwest Transitway Policy Advisory Committee and currently is a member of the Business Advisory Committee.
In 2002, I was asked to represent the business community on a group asking how to best serve west metro transportation needs.
Ten years later, support for Southwest Light Rail is strong and growing. Why? Because we have some of the most important economic development opportunities in the region and state. Projected job growth here requires more transportation if we are going to serve those employees and maintain our quality of life. That, in turn, means investing in both better roads and transit. Neither approach works by itself.
The work we did beginning in 2002 examined the options for this corridor. The Alternatives Analysis completed in 2008 looked at four choices: 1) doing nothing, 2) enhanced bus service on existing roads, 3) bus rapid transit on its own right of way, and 4) light rail. All of these options are in addition to numerous additional highway improvements. A thorough analysis of the options showed light rail transit to be the best and most cost-effective addition to the southwest metro’s transportation system. I hope other advisory committees studying transportation issues in other parts of the metro region will be just as diligent in vetting the options and alternatives as we are in the SW Corridor region.
Unfortunately, it seems like various modes of transportation have become politicized. I approach this issue not as a politician or an elected official, but as a small business owner and architect, interested in seeing our region thrive. Making sure our area has the transportation options necessary to grow and attract jobs is not a political issue, it’s an economic necessity.
Opponents of bringing light rail to the west metro have used outdated studies and claims that money for SW LRT could be used for other purposes, such as funding K-12 education or building roads. These arguments don’t hold up. Ten percent of the construction costs for Southwest Light Rail would come from state bonding dollars that can only be used for non-highway construction projects. The remaining 90 percent would come from transit-only dedicated funds at the county and federal level. Southwest Light Rail is not competing with schools or roads for funding.
Rather than pitting SW LRT against roads, we should take an “all of the above” approach to improving our transportation system. Other major metropolitan regions, including Dallas, Denver, and Salt Lake City, have dramatically improved both their road and transit systems over the past 10 years. They have found that the return on the investment in rail has been significantly positive.
The Southwest Light Rail corridor has 210,000 private sector jobs and that’s projected to grow to 270,000 by 2030. Employers are ready to add good jobs, but only if there are transportation options to get employees there. SW LRT is one of 12 projects selected by the federal government to move forward of more than 100 that applied. We are on the verge of finally creating a comprehensive transportation system that links the entire Twin Cities region together. Based on return on investment, job growth and economic development, Southwest Light Rail makes sense.