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Feds Put Southwest LRT on the Fast Track

The project is one of two being expedited with the "We Can't Wait" initiative.

President Barack Obama is apparently a supporter of expanded light rail in the Twin Cities area.

The Obama Administration announced today that the Southwest Light Rail project is one of two projects in the country that will be expedited due to the "We Can't Wait" initiative.

That initiative aims to speed up the various processes required to get a big project off the ground. In the case of Southwest LRT, the Federal Transit Administration is using an enhanced coordination process with other federal agencies as well as exploring using the NEPA/Clean Water Act merger process, which is estimated to save several months by aligning multiple permit and review processes to work concurrently instead of sequentially.

The target date for completing federal permits and reviews is November 2014.

The Southwest Light Rail line, which will connect downtown Minneapolis with Eden Prairie via a route through the west metro suburbs, is anticipated to open in 2018.

Costs are estimated to run around $1.25 billion. The FTA is expected to pay for up to half of the line, with local sources picking up the rest. To date, local legislators have failed to secure $25 million in bonding bill funding. Gov. Mark Dayton did approve a $2 million grant for Southwest LRT last month.

The project has also received $47 million from the Hennepin County Regional Rail Authority, the Counties Transit Improvement Board and the state.

Hennepin County commissioner Gail Dorfman said the announcement definitely comes as good news.

She said for the FTA to make the project a priority is "very significant," though she added that she didn't expect the anticipated opening date to move up.

"But you never know," Dorfman said.

As far as dollars and cents, the commissioner said Monday's announcement "certainly sends a signal" to the legislature that more funding should be approved.

Ultimately, Dorfman said she thinks the process is going well.

"It kind of seems like things are lining up," she said.

On behalf of the state’s five largest local chambers of commerce (TwinWest, the Edina Chamber of Commerce, the Eden Prairie Chamber of Commerce, the Minneapolis Regional Chamber of Commerce and the Saint Paul Area Chamber of Commerce), TwinWest Chamber Director of Government Affairs Judy Johnson issued the following statement:

This is great news for commuters, workers, and job providers in the Twin Cities.  Southwest LRT is strongly supported by Minnesotans, the business community, and cities in the southwest metro. 

In today’s announcement, the White House confirms this is one of the most important transportation projects in the country and they're going to do everything they can to help move this project along as quickly as possible.

We need more transportation options if we’re going to grow jobs and stay competitive with other regions.  Southwest LRT will help serve 60,000 new private sector workers, provide 10 million rides a year, improve our region’s quality of life, and reduce traffic congestion.

Met Council chairwoman Susan Haigh said, in a statement, that "the announcement affirms the status of the Southwest LRT Project as a high-ranking and viable project, and the work we are doing with all the involved and committed partners to create a 21st century transit system."

You can read Haigh's full statement here.

Carol October 02, 2012 at 03:47 PM
I am very glad to hear the line is still moving ahead, though I have reservations about how many stops are planned for the LRT Southwest line. I think each outlying suburb should have only one stop each except for maybe EP which is kind of spread out. The goal should be that the line is better, faster, and cheaper than driving in your own car. Every station/stop you add, adds costs and prolongs the total travel time to downtown Mnpls.
David October 02, 2012 at 03:53 PM
As another posted commented about light rail, some questions for those supporting this boondoggle: 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 October 02, 2012 at 03:53 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 October 02, 2012 at 03:54 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 October 02, 2012 at 03:55 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.
Maury Ballsteen October 02, 2012 at 06:57 PM
David, Interesting points. But aren't taxpayer dollars already being used to subsidise roads, and bridges, and tunnels? Those are part of our transit system. And a recurring expense at that. I'm pretty sure we don't have any toll roads in MN, so I'm wondering if you consider those infrastructure costs to be "in the black." Don't we rely upon 'government' to build, grow, and maintain our local, regional, and national infrastructure? I don't expect Target to build a road from thier store to my house if I want to purchase some groceries, that would be silly. Our country was built on free enterprise, but the foundation of that enterprise was constructed with Eisenhower's Interstate Highway System. That system has been estimated to cost over $400 billion in today's dollars, just to construct. That doesn't include the annual costs of maintaining that system. Target and Walmart and K Mart don't have private roads they built to move their goods around the country. They use our public infrastructure that was built for everyone to use. I understand that part of my tax dollars are spent to invest in the infrastructure that benefits everyone. And beyond that, I also understand that those funds, which I contribute via taxes, are also used to grow and maintain that system of transportation so that everyone can benefit. Also, as someone who apparently has been reading Sid for the last 30 years, I think you can only blame yourself if you take anything he says seriously.
Carol October 03, 2012 at 02:25 PM
Maury's point about existing roads not "being in the black" is good; licenses, tabs, registration fees do not cover the costs of the MN road system most roads are taxpayer subsidized. I'm not anti-bus, they're an integral part of any mass-transit system. What concerns me about LR is that Metrotransit doesn't seem to understand the best uses for each type of high occupancy transit (HOT). One of the reasons LR should be faster is that 80% of the time it should have its own dedicated path (i.e. not share a transit path with traditional traffic). The Central Corridor (CC) line runs down University which is packed with traffic, stop lights, accidents etc. In addition to that it has 18 stops. In my opinion they're trying to use the CC like an expensively supped-up bus. It would have been better to have several stops in downtown St. Paul and then maybe 4 additional stops besides the already existing Mnpls stops and the line should have had its own dedicated path or a path shared only with other HOT types of transit. Cities shouldn't try to use the LR like a supped-up bus. It operates best as a fast, direct line to the city centers; from there individual cities like SLP/Hopkins etc can and should adjust the existing bus inventory we have to serve as "intracity" transit which would then funnel people to the single LR hub for their area. If this project isn’t executed properly, it will be a terrible boondoggle and will make the metro gun-shy about investing in additional lines.
Maury Ballsteen October 03, 2012 at 04:25 PM
Carol, That was one of the most logical and polite comments I've seen on a message board. Thank you for sharing. I think your point differentiating lightrail and bus transit was excellent. Busses can, and should, service many routes and many spots. LR provides a dedicated path from an outlying area to a city center. It willbe the combination of the two systems (along with taxis, bike sharing, and inviting walking paths throughout the city) that produce the easiest and most inviting method of public transportation.
Scott Rickhoff October 03, 2012 at 06:36 PM
Maury, You are totally missing the point of 'return on investment'. Many in our community feel it is very irresponsible when straddled with 16 trillion dollar debt to assume all spending is smart spending. Particularly when we have a perfectly good substitute with less than 10% utility cost and do the same job. It is called buses. Can you or any other LRT proponent show us a comparative study illustrating how LRT does the job better and cheaper than a bus, if so, then you just might have some creditably with the taxpayers of Minnetonka and Eden Prairie. BTW, you need to update yourself with what is going on in Portland. For all the same soft reasons outlined above they also built LRT lines. No one is using them. There is no development. Now the taxpayers are being forced to not only to subsidize rail, they are now being taxed to fund new housing and retail development. I see you people love to toss around the word 'investment'... well can someone show us the return? So far all I hear is emoting and very little comparative facts. At one time I guess the public utility for the pyramids seemed like a good idea by someone, but I wouldn't want to live in Egypt either.
Scott Rickhoff October 03, 2012 at 07:18 PM
It is not surprising to me how the DFLer’s above continue to push more spending on programs we neither afford or need. Headline should read, “Local fiscal tone deaf DFLers continue to push for even more taxes on boondoggles like LRT”
Maury Ballsteen October 03, 2012 at 07:44 PM
Scott.. My Man. Let's try to keep your arguments seperated here so that they can be easily addressed. The southwest region of the Greater Twin Cities area is NOT 16, trillion in debt. That is the National Debt. I never said all spending is good spending, I said I support the SW LRT. I also didn't say that the SW LRT would generate a profit. I said it was an investment. Hwy 169 doesn't generate a profit, but 'David' seems pretty excited that it is being improved. I'd love to hear your definition of "better" I think the LRT is "better" than busses because it will be faster, it will reduce wear and tear on the road, and it will provide destinations within communities that draw outsiders to areas desinged for commerce. I'm a taxpayer in Hopkins, and I am thrilled to see the forward thinking and progressive planning that the City of Hopkins is undergoing in anticipation of the SW LRT. Slaves built the pyramids. Maybe you are an Egyptologist who studied the socio-economic and public support for the Pyramids dring ancient Egyptian times, so please correct me if I am wrong, but I REALLY doubt that anyone but the Emperor who decided to have a Pyramid for a burial place thought it was a good idea. Those were single occupancy death housing units. Hardly a good investment by ANY measure. Also, I'm not a "DFLer" I'm independant. That means I use critical thinking instead of labels to make my points.
David October 03, 2012 at 08:46 PM
Maury can argue about 'investment' (read: more spending) in LRT is just the same as for roads and bridges, but it's not. The 169 interchange, and all roads, service more taxpayers by a factor of 100 or more than any LRT line. But Maury and LRT utopians would have us spend $1.25 billion on 15 miles of track that can never be moved and only a fraction of taxpayers will ever use. No doubt, if it gets built, Maury and others will be back demanding more 'investment' in our "crumbling roads and bridges" as we hear from politicians all the time. And it's not just startup costs. LRT costs more to maintain than roads and buses, services only a fraction of the area and only a fraction of tax payers. And study after study from Macalaster College here to Investors Business daily have shown that the Twin Cites has neither the population density nor the infrastructure need for LRT, making its building a matter of ideology, not necessity.
David October 03, 2012 at 08:47 PM
None of the alleged economic growth has come from the building of LRTs, none of the mythical 60,000 jobs DFLers are claiming will poof into existence once we lay track and no ridership quota will be reached no matter how cheap the met Council makes it. They just lowered the fare for the North Star line to $.99 because it hasn't hit it's ridership quotas 3 years running. None of the economic boom, congestion remediation or quality of life claims being made will come true. Just as they haven't for the Hiawatha or North Star lines or the Central corridor when it is finished. This is nothing but progressive social engineers, who use the mantra 'get out of your cars and onto the train', trying to force us to live as they see fit. And the $16 trillion in debt matters because another talking point of these utopians is that we have to act NOW, NOW, NOW to get 'free' money from the Federal Government. No money is ever free and that money can be used for ANY transportation need so I say, if we take it, let's use it to benefit the majority of taxpayers by improving our roads, bridges and buses, not waste it on a 19th Century technology.
David October 03, 2012 at 08:53 PM
And if Maury's arguments are an example of 'independent critical thinking' then he's in a great deal of trouble. As I said for another poster who claims to be something they aren't, you can call yourself anything you want, but it doesn't make you that. An 'independent' who swallows the expansion of government, spending more money that we don't have and forcing people to live how he believes they should is just a progressive liberal trying to hide his agenda and bias. Sorry, Maury "my man" a Progressive liberal by any other name is still just as wrong. No hiding behind the supposed third-way "a pox on both your houses" claim of independence and its alleged moral superiority can hide that you are the Bernie Sanders of this debate.
Daryl Fryxell October 04, 2012 at 07:55 PM
The federal government is broke. It has no money. In fact, it is in the red for $16 trillion! There is no way any rational person can justify this utterly wasteful scheme.
Carol October 04, 2012 at 08:34 PM
Transit of any kind in MN is always going to have a substantial price tag on it due to the weather. I’m not saying that I’m not a little dubious about the final price tag (for initial construction) clocking in at over 1.25 billion for this one line, because I am. But in general terms the building, maintaining, and managing transit routes is a type of government spending that actually makes sense. It’s one of the things they should do. The trick is getting them to do it wisely and efficiently. Our metro area does face some hefty logistical obstacles that undoubtedly raise the price tag: The metro area is made up of multiple cities and multiple counties. Thankfully the SW line would be inside of Hennepin County only unlike, the Central Corridor (CC). Coordinating the cities, county, and state on this project has a cost to it, and arriving at a final plan that is executed wisely and not compromised by too many compromises is not a small task. It is something that’s difficult to execute, but I believe it is ultimately wise and even a necessary investment. _The_ key to the SW line being successful is making sure the line is significantly faster (half the time or better) from end to end than driving currently is. If they accomplish that the line will be used, but if they try to make it a bus-train-Frankenstein then the project should be scrapped till the cities et al. can reach a consensus that results in a solid product.
Daryl Fryxell October 04, 2012 at 09:52 PM
Carol, I am mystified. You say the price is too high. Yet you think it that light rail is "wise" and "necessary." How can it be wise when the undisputed facts show that light rail has FAILED everywhere in the country? Not enough people will ride it. The fare is NEVER enough to recover all of the costs, meaning that it will be forever subsidized by the taxpayers. It will NEVER create the economic development claimed by its proponents. How can it be necessary when we have private automobiles, taxicabs, and a heavily subsidized bus system already in place to transport people? How many people cannot get where they need to go right now? How will a fixed rail line solve that? It cannot and will not. Foolhardy does not even come close to accurately describing this scam. Finally, I want to vomit every time some fool refers to another wasteful spending plan by government as an "investment." Wrong. Investments bring a return. Investments yield dividends. Light rail will bring nothing except an annual bill to the taxpayers for the eternal subsidies that will be required to keep it running. I'm out for that deal. I will get a CD at the bank for 0.75% instead. Ahem.
Maury Ballsteen October 04, 2012 at 10:50 PM
David. My man! Not exactly sure how voicing support for the SW LRT is forcing you to live by my beliefs, but I'm pretty excited about it. So lets get started and see if we can't straighten you and your buddy Daryl out. First, you two can calm down. Second, you should realize that no matter how many CAPITAL LETTERS you use, it won't make you sound MORE IMPORTANT. Third, you need to stop labeling people. A single point on an issue does not a political party make. Fourth, try and be more polite. Fifth, you two guys need to relax. I'm sensing a lot of stress here. Lastly, try to limit the superlatives. Talking in absolutes is a terrible way to maintain conversations. It removes the opportunity to have a constructive discourse. I hope you two guys have a great night.
David October 04, 2012 at 11:11 PM
Wow...writing so many lines that add absolutely nothing to the conversation. That's impressive, Bernie. Your debate style is, as they would say in Texas, 'all hat and no cattle.' Way to go, 'my man,' it takes a true narcissist personality to pull off your level of dismissive ignorance of the issue at hand.
Maury Ballsteen October 05, 2012 at 04:08 AM
Thanks David. I figured I'd lower the conversation down to your level so you guys could compete.
David October 05, 2012 at 05:32 AM
No need to thank me, Bernie. Your 'independent thinking' put the bar of this conversation in the dust with your first post. Interesting you think this was a competition - a race to the bottom, obviously. Which is unfair since that's where you started. So congrats, you and your 'independent' mind got there from the starter gun.
Carol October 05, 2012 at 05:05 PM
Daryl, sorry it doesn't give me the option to reply to your reply. I said I was dubious about the price of the rail as in it sounds very high, but I haven't dug deep into the numbers and there are no official bids on the building of the line, that I know of yet. I am however very much in favor of expanding the mass transit options to include rail for the twin cities. Dividends do come in many forms, insisting that the ticket fare for LR must on it's own meet and or exceed the costs of running the line, makes me wonder if you think that we should have to pay a toll each time we use a public roadway to directly recoup the costs of building and maintaining it? Do you? I also concede that other municipalities may have failed in their implementation of rail, but I think that is due to poor execution and _not_ because rail is an inherently flawed form of transit. Rail is a effective when it is used in a very precise way and in conjunction with other forms of mass transit.

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