What's less understood is that the University line has fallen two years behind schedule (to beyond 2011) if, indeed, it has any realistic schedule at all. The immediate sticking point involves stripping the 11-mile, $840 million project to its bare bones to meet new federal cost-effectiveness standards. That probably means eliminating a tunnel at the university and trimming some stations and amenities.
The bigger snag is Minnesota's reluctance to commit a reliable funding stream for this or any transit project while bolder markets, having already made such commitments, muscle their way to the front of the line for federal money. In that contest, the Twin Cities keeps falling backward. If you doubt it, page through the 2007 Federal Transit Administration documents that list projects lined up for matching money. Let's see: There's Denver, Seattle, Phoenix, Dallas, San Diego, Portland, Charlotte, Cleveland, Chicago and 12 other cities. Minneapolis-St. Paul is nowhere in sight.
The Strib understandably makes the point that this thing has been delayed for years (nay, decades). And yesterday, David Strom (and his friends) were in Saint Paul again arguing that rail and transit are wasteful and unnecessary -- and that busses are inherently better than trains when it comes to transit. The chair of the House Transportation Finance commttee, Mary Liz Holberg (R - Lakeville) is a pretty stauch opponent of commuter or LRT projects.
On the other hand, the Senate bonding proposal voted to set aside $5M yesterday, which will be a bargaining chip for when the two houses compromise in the end. The real issue, though, is next year. That's when the legislature is going to have to devote a big chunk of money to the project. The cold truth is that this project might depend on whether or not the Republicans maintain control of the House (and Governor's office) in 2006.
It amazes me how responsive the business commitee (The Stp, Mpls, and Midway chambers of commerce, and the ITASCA group) has been in this transportation debate. The Republican party is in the strange position of fighting their own business donors when it comes to transportation -- and you'd think that many business owners might start giving money to the DFL.
I went to Hoa Bien (Lexington & University in St. Paul) on Monday evening to attend a TOD information session put on by St. Paul and some other non-profit groups intended for small businessmen and residents along University Avenue. It was a really good idea, and many people voiced their concerns. Speakers from the Midway Chamber, various neighborhood groups, &c. were on hand. I was particularly impressed by the moderator, a woman from a place called the Center for Neighborhoods.
Never mind, I guess. Apparently the Feds trust our legislature to appropriate money. (From today's PiPress.)
On Tuesday, the [relevant] federal agency accepted calculations by local officials that showed the Central Corridor's projected costs were low enough to allow the project to proceed.
"We clearly came out with very high ridership … better than expected," Ortega said.
Now the Metropolitan Council and the Ramsey and Hennepin county regional rail authorities may take the next steps in the approval process. Local officials will seek public comment about a draft environmental impact statement for the line and decide whether they prefer to operate a light-rail or a bus-rapid-transit system, according to the Metropolitan Council. Officials could decide on a "preferred alternative" early this summer.
Although local officials have not formally said they prefer trains to buses, the cost-effectiveness study was done for light rail. The environmental impact statement projected light rail would provide about 20 percent more rides per day than the busway.