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Dayton offers game-changing transit plan

Photo by Jeff Syme
The Central Corridor LRT connecting St. Paul and Minneapolis will begin operating in 2014.

Presto chango!

With one modest proposal, Gov. Mark Dayton may have put the Twin Cities on a fast track to build out its transit system.

In his budget, presented the other day to the Legislature, was a 0.25 percent tax on sales in the seven-county metropolitan area that would provide a permanent stream of money to expand LRT construction, add bus rapid transit lines and make up transit operating deficits.

“To have the governor state that transit is part of his vision for the growth of the region in the 21st century and then to have him back that up with resources, well, it’s a great way to start off a legislative session,” says Peter McLaughlin, Hennepin County Commissioner and long-time public-transit advocate. “I’m incredibly appreciative of what the governor has done.”

Transportation chairs in both the state House and Senate — Rep. Frank Hornstein (DFL-Minneapolis) and Scott Dibble (DFL-Minneapolis) — endorsed the tax enthusiastically in a joint press release. “It’s highly unusual to have a significant tax increase proposed by a governor to benefit mass transit,” Hornstein later told me in a phone call.

Through the years the metro’s transit program has progressed in fits and starts worthy of the Toonerville Trolley. The Legislature took 15 years to cough up its share of money for the Hiawatha Line, which launched in 2004. The next phase — the Central Corridor LRT connecting St. Paul and Minneapolis — won’t start operating until 2014. Last year, the governor asked for $25 million in bonding for the Southwest Corridor line to Eden Prairie, but the project received only $7 million, $2 million of it from an economic development fund GOP legislators set aside after scaling back the governor’s 2012 bonding request.

While transit efforts have limped along, construction costs have soared and the federal government lowered the share of money it contributes to transit projects from 80 percent to a maximum of 50 percent. And the more the local government asks for, the less likely it is to receive dough from the Feds who want to see some expression of local effort.

In fact, to show that they were earnest about public transit, five metropolitan counties (Anoka, Dakota, Hennepin, Ramsey and Washington) back in 2008 imposed a 0.25 percent sales tax on themselves. (Carver and Scott Counties opted out.) If the Legislature adopts Dayton’s proposal, the amount devoted to transit would nearly double.

Tallying the money

The tax already in place brings in about $101 million a year. The governor’s add-on would presumably yield another $101 million plus an estimated $5 million from Carver and Scott. After that, things get complicated. Dayton has also asked for a sales tax reform that would broaden it to include clothing as well as service businesses. Those changes could add as much as 70 percent to those revenues, says Andrew Lee, fiscal adviser to the House Transportation Committee. But Dayton is also hoping to lower the rate. Bottom line: the Met Council is projecting a $250 million annual kitty for transit.

That would be enough to provide an annual expansion of bus service (more routes, greater frequency and longer hours), fund the local portion of the cost of the Southwest LRT, add as many as 12 arterial bus rapid-transit or streetcar lines over the next 20 years, and eventually build the Bottineau LRT, which would stretch northwest of Minneapolis to Brooklyn Center, and the Gateway LRT, which would extend east of St. Paul into Washington County.

In short, the metro would have a fully developed public transit system. That would be a boon to both commuters and businesses, according to the Itasca Project, an alliance of area employers, including Best Buy, HealthPartners, SUPERVALU, U.S. Bank, Wells Fargo and others. A 2012 study it commissioned found that a $4.4 billion investment in transit over the next 18 years would produce a direct return of between $6.6 billion and $10.1 billion. (Direct returns include lower vehicle operating costs, lower shipping and logistics costs, decreased emissions and so on.) Transit construction would create an estimated 30,000 equivalent full-time jobs, and development near stations would add another $2 billion to $4 billion in economic development. 

Building the system more rapidly ups the return on investment dramatically to as much as $16.5 billion, and since the governor is a member of the Itasca Project, it’s a good bet that he took note of its findings. His proposal also falls in line with a recent poll that found Minnesota voters overwhelmingly in favor of expanding public transit. Some 79 percent of those surveyed said they believe an expanded public transportation program would benefit the state. Fully 57 percent of voters in the seven-county metro say that they would approve of a 0.5 percent sales tax to fund transit; 74 percent of those outside the metro approve of the tax.

Not everybody is thrilled with the idea, however. Rep. Michael Beard (R-Shakopee), a member of the Transportation Policy Committee and long a critic of public transit, disapproves because the state has to ante up subsidies for transit every year from the state’s general fund. When drawn to the fact that the tax would, in theory at least, take care of operating losses, he sounded less disgruntled but added that he could support such a tax only if counties or other local governments could use the money as they wished to fund their own projects.

‘We don’t like any kind of tax’

Randy Maluchnik, commissioner of Carver County, sounded somewhat resigned. “In Carver, we don’t like any kind of tax,” he says. Nevertheless, he is convinced that the LRT is coming to Eden Prairie sooner or later — “it’s a matter of time,” he adds.

But if the tax is adopted by the Legislature, he would like a piece of the funds collected from his county to go to items it needs. Some money, he says, should go to the area’s so-called opt-out bus system. Taxpayers don’t want to abandon it because they’ve already paid for it, he says, but those buses “will become feeders to the LRT line,” and Carver would need funds to add service and build park-and-ride facilities.

Further opposition comes from those who believe that the transit tax neglects the needs of rural Minnesota. “We have more of a shortfall for roads and bridges,” says state Sen. John Pederson (R-St. Cloud), referring to a brand-new report on Minnesota’s “transportation challenges” that came out only this week from TRIP, a Washington, D.C., nonprofit research group. They found, not too surprisingly, that “a third of the state’s major roads are in need of repair, with 12 percent rated in poor condition and an additional 19 percent rated mediocre in 2010.”

You have to take those findings with a grain of salt since TRIP is sponsored by insurance companies, equipment manufacturers, labor unions and others looking to boost construction, but their assessment doesn’t seem out of line with those done previously.

Given all that, maybe the 0.25 percent add-on should apply statewide, with funds from Greater Minnesota going to repair roads and bridges and those collected in the seven-county area designated for transit. And businesses in the seven-county area wouldn’t have to worry about customers driving over the county line to competitors to avoid the tax. The House Transportation Committee, says Hornstein, will probably look at that idea among many others.

“The governor has made an opening proposal, but it’s by no means the final word,” he says. Between now and the end of the session, he adds, “A lot of things can happen.”

Comments (39)

  1. Submitted by Nick Magrino on 01/25/2013 - 09:47 am.

    Can we please stop quoting Mike Beard/other conservative legislators when they talk about public transit subsidies? At a certain point, we’re just promoting misinformation. Road construction and maintenance hasn’t been paid for by the gas tax in ages. The Blue Line runs at a lower operating subsidy than almost all bus lines in the city. Just because it’s repeated over and over again doesn’t make it accurate, and we have to stop thinking about building freeways into farmland as our default transportation option. Public transit isn’t some luxury add-on, it makes sense.

    People who follow transit will remember the much-touted/clearly-unnecessary St. Croix bridge costing more than the total amount of money needed to repair all the structurally deficient bridges in Minnesota:

    Just because a lot of people have made investments in five bedroom houses in Carver County doesn’t mean we need to spend hundreds of million dollars on more roads to make those investments seem wise. We need to maintain what roads we have, and plan for the future by investing in public transit.

  2. Submitted by Karen Sandness on 01/25/2013 - 10:26 am.


    I don’t think the transit naysayers understand how far the U.S. is behind the rest of the world and how far the Twin Cities are behind other major North American cities when it comes to transit. We are definitely behind the rest of the world when it comes to high-speed rail, which could provide downtown to downtown service to cities within 600 miles and eliminate the hassles of short-hop flights. (If you think “rail” means Amtrak’s grossly underfunded and hobbled service, you need to get out into the world more and see what modern train service is like.)

    The day is likely to come when our petroleum-powered transportation non-system is no longer affordable to the average person and the environmental and health effects of auto exhaust become obvious even to the most obtuse car fanatic.

    When that day comes, will we be glad that our state government had the wisdom to provide for future needs, or will we be looking back and cursing the knee-jerk anti-tax, anti-transit, anti-urban crowd for leaving us in an auto-choked mess?

    Furthermore, suburbanites and exurbanites who dread their morning commutes should imagine themselves sitting back and reading, playing games on their phones, knitting, sleeping, finishing some last-minute work on their laptops, or whatever they want to do while someone else drives them into town and never gets stuck in traffic. They should also take a serious look at how much money they would save if they could give up one of their cars.

    From what I hear when people talk about the Central Corridor, I think that increased numbers of Minneapolis residents will be willing to attend events in St. Paul and increased numbers of St. Paul residents will be willing to attend events in Minneapolis, because they won’t have to worry about parking.

    No one is going to “force Americans out of their cars,” as the anti-transit shills are fond of saying. When Asian, Latin American, and African restaurants became commonplace in the Twin Cities, were people forced to stop eating sandwiches for lunch? No, they were merely given additional choices. In fact, many Twin Cites residents (including me) are currently forced INTO their cars more than they would like, given the lack of adequate transit to many places.

    As for rural legislators’ objections, the gripe seems to be not about “taxes,” although that’s how they frame it. The objection is to being taxed for anything but projects that benefit them directly.

    Incidentally, transit projects provide jobs, not only during construction but also for operation and maintenance.

    • Submitted by Monica Millsap on 01/26/2013 - 05:46 pm.

      I grew up on a farm and to get anywhere anywhere, we really had to use a car. I moved to St Paul, the Midway area, strictly because of that experience…I wanted to be able to walk to anything I needed and take buses to those areas that were too far to walk. So, I’m always amazed when I read comments like above, describing how people will go to St Paul or Minneapolis now because of the light rail. You mean they couldn’t take the 16, the 50 or the 94?

      Then, I think of my co-workers, who live near by and won’t take the 94 from Snelling and University to the Metrodome….no, they will drive all the way to the Mall of America to take the light rail from MOA to the Metrodome. Why people would take the longer route over a fast, efficient route, I have no idea.

      But, I agree that many people do not understand how far behind the US is compared to world cities. I have traveled to Moscow, Paris, Dublin, Sydney…my husband has been to Hong Kong (which is a privately owned system). All have highly efficient systems that transport people to real places with very little waiting time between buses or trains. Places with world class systems have invested in a transit service that people *want* to ride, rather than building a bare minimum system.

      I can only hope that the increased taxes leads to more effective, efficient, and faster transportation, though the precedent seems to be to pour money into one project and then reduce service and eliminate bus stops on other routes. (When the Green Line starts, the 16 service will be reduced, the 94 stop at Snelling and I94 will be eliminated, the 144 route will be eliminated, among a longer list of reductions and already the 53 limited stop route has been reduced).

  3. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 01/25/2013 - 10:29 am.

    I’m surprised

    The Republicans don’t like any kind of tax. Then again the Republicans have no coherent concept of government beyond making rules about religion and marriage.

  4. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 01/25/2013 - 10:58 am.

    It’s about time

    An auto-dependent suburban-dweller all my life until moving to a neglected corner of Minneapolis 4 years ago, one of the unpleasant surprises of the Twin Cities turned out to be the automotive congestion and accompanying woeful state of public transit in the area. I’d hoped to be able to duplicate my experience in Denver, where living in a western suburb did not preclude me from taking BRT downtown to a 3-block walk to Coors Field. That’s not possible from my neighborhood of Minneapolis, it turns out, and there’s no light rail of any kind north of downtown, so a trip to Target Field that doesn’t require 3 hours and 2 bus transfers involves driving to Fridley to catch the North Star at its last/first stop outside the city.

    This tax is a reaction to what thoughtful people can see going on all around them. We’ve built an entire society around the automobile, and it’s not sustainable on multiple levels. We’re a billion dollars, give or take a few million, from having safe roads in good condition for those automobiles to use, our health as a nation is perhaps the worst of all the industrialized countries because the vast majority of our planning and dollars has gone into zoning and construction that assumes and promotes automobile use over virtually every other transit mode, specifically including walking, our economic future is in the hands of multinational companies that have no investment in the well-being of the U.S. beyond what we can contribute to their bottom line, or, worse yet, depends upon the cooperation of governments hostile to American ideals.

    Public transit – hugely expanded to the point where it becomes a viable alternative to the automobile, much as it was in the early 20th century before automobiles corrupted our collective soul – is, or ought to be, a genuine imperative, and I’m happy to see that Minnesota has a Governor who seems to “get” that. Expanding the 0.25 percent tax to be statewide is an excellent idea to aid rural counties and municipalities in maintaining their own road infrastructure, but even if that desirable goal is for some reason ignored, the tax absolutely ought to be implemented in the metro area.

    Mr. Beard (R-Shakopee) may be disgruntled about fairly obvious public subsidies for transit, but is either unaware, or conveniently ignores, the fact that fuel taxes, tolls, and other “user fees” pay for only about 1/3 of the cost of roads. In other words, most of what gets spent on roads in the state is coming from general fund revenues – that is, road construction and maintenance is being heavily subsidized by everyone, whether they are drivers themselves or not. Mr. Maluchnik reflects the “free lunch” attitude of many with his flippant “We don’t like ANY kind of tax.”

    I’d like to live tax-free, too. In fact, I’d like to have the standard of living of the upper 2 percent.

    Ain’t gonna happen.

    Public services have to be paid for, and taxes are how we do that. Carver County residents, and some of their commissioners, may not like that particular bit of reality, but I’m not aware of a viable alternative. Dayton is, I think, thinking far enough ahead in this instance to put something on the table in the context of transit that’s truly forward-looking, and may well help the metro area and the state as a whole survive the inevitable contraction that will come about when fossil fuels can no longer be the economic basis for the economy of the nation.

    • Submitted by Karen Sandness on 01/25/2013 - 02:50 pm.

      You’re right about the need for transit in rural areas, too

      So many Minnesota communities have neither bus nor rail service, so people who live there are stuck if they’re physically unable to drive or too poor to afford a car.

      The last time I was in England in 2007, I happened to visit Wells, which has no train service but serves as a sort of bus hub for its region. As I waited for the bus to my next destination, I observed some of the town’s seniors, standing and waiting in groups of two or three. I remember in particular overhearing two elderly men talking about where they should go that day. As the conversation proceeded, I learned that they were old friends who met once a week to have lunch in pubs around the area.

      I couldn’t help thinking about how many rural and exurban American seniors, disabled, and poor are trapped in their towns or even in their homes, simply because they can’t drive. If we had better intercity bus and van service and circulating vans within the smaller cities, we could improve their quality of life.

  5. Submitted by Todd Hintz on 01/25/2013 - 11:54 am.


    This is great news for transit in the Twin Cities! One of the key items to moving it forward has been a dedicated fund we can use. Without it the planners have to go back to the legislature every time they need a couple of bucks to get a project to its next stage. We shouldn’t be building an LRT line every ten or twenty years, but rather bang them all out simultaneously so we have an actual transit system and not just a line here and there.

    To get some perspective, Dallas–hardly a bastion of liberal ideology– taxes itself 1% for its rapid transit and current has 85 miles of LRT rails in place with plans to add more.

  6. Submitted by David Greene on 01/25/2013 - 12:35 pm.

    Greater MN Transit

    Greater MN has a *huge* unmet need for transit, something which Sen. Pederson is about to find out from his constituents.

    So no, the sales tax should NOT go to roads. So much other money goes to roads already – gas taxes, property taxes, MVST, fees, on and on and on. No, what we need for roads is a fix-it-first policy rather that wasteful expansion projects like the St. Croix bridge. There is very little highway or freeway expansion needed within the metro area. What we need is to fix and maintain what we already have.

  7. Submitted by David Greene on 01/25/2013 - 12:38 pm.


    Gateway is not LRT, it is BRT.

    • Submitted by Matthew Brillhart on 01/25/2013 - 04:13 pm.


      Gateway is still pie in the sky. As in, it won’t exist for at least a decade, so don’t talk about it in absolutes. Yes, BRT is more likely and more cost effective, given the lower ridership potential in that corridor. However, both modes (LRT and BRT) are being advanced to the next level of study, according to the Alternatives Analysis. Woodbury is projected to have a population of 80,000+ in 2030, and Lake Elmo is about to open up a huge chunk of land to development along I-94. I wouldn’t be surprised if planners take a wait-and-see approach on the mode choice. In the meantime, they can continue with the DEIS, lock down the routing, do some station area planning, etc. without committing to LRT or BRT just yet. My money is still on BRT, but the maybe the sales tax expansion could change that.

  8. Submitted by Alex Cecchini on 01/25/2013 - 05:10 pm.

    We should differentiate between

    good transit and bad transit. I would consider rewarding far flung exurbs and second-ring suburbs with expensive to implement transit for commuting a bad form of transit. Reality is the people who use this form of transit will use their cars for every trip of their day, including to the large parking structures (look at the SW Metro stops, proposed station areas for the SWLRT, 35W line stops, and Cedar “BRT” parking garages. This commuter-only transit will not make development in suburbs force a shift in how they develop or cause a meaningful change in lifestyles. These corridors, while useful in the short-term to reduce congestion and GHG emissions, do not solve our longer-term problems of unproductive spaces. They also aren’t typically self-supporting from a farebox recovery ratio perspective (I recognize none of transit lines today in MSP are, but they are proven to be positive in other areas of the world with significant density to support ridership).

    We should focus on 2 types of transit that support our BUILT environment. Local transit serving populations at higher capacities and lower operational cost than existing options (ex CC LRT, Midtown Corridor, etc). And, regional transit serving nodes in greater MN. Stop calling the Northstar Line a “commuter” line as that narrows the vision and purpose (and doesn’t provide mobility within the region, just commuting to and from work or Twins games). It is regional rail and should extend to places like St Cloud, maybe beyond. These places should then be connected to effective transit of their own in a smart pattern that mimics the core Mpls-StP area where one could get around by foot, bike, or bus/rail if need be. Theoretically, someone could travel from their house in St Cloud (or Duluth, or Rochester) to the local regional train station, to Mpls or Stp, then hop on the LRT to MSP Airport without ever needing a car.

    I have a hard time getting behind the SW LRT for these reasons. But I’m glad Dayton is calling out the need for better transit and following through with a funding source.

  9. Submitted by David Greene on 01/26/2013 - 12:22 am.


    Southwest LRT is a *huge* opportunity gateway for North Minneapolis. It is much much much much more than a commuter line from the suburbs. It could not be built as LRT if there was not significant ridership in both directions.

    Certainly we need more service in the urban areas, but simply dismissing all service to/from the suburbs is an injustice and a huge slap in the face to people we’ve cut off from jobs for decades.

  10. Submitted by Alex Cecchini on 01/26/2013 - 09:47 am.

    Cut off?

    “dismissing all service to/from the suburbs is an injustice and a huge slap in the face to people we’ve cut off from jobs for decades.”

    How has anyone in the suburbs been cut off from jobs for decades? All we’ve done as a city/region is built more freeways, expanded the lanes in the freeways, and razed productive places in our dore downtowns and surrounding neighborhoods in favor of surface parking. People living in the city limits reverse commuting have been able to drive out to the burbs where companies offer giant parking lots at no cost (not direct, anyway) to them.

    I don’t think it’s outrageous to assume we would build a line that serves largely the commuter. Look at the Northstar line ridership patterns and development around the stations. Take a look at the proposed light rail stations along the SW line. The frequency of stops and the areas they serve (example, choosing to go west of Kenwood instead of serving the highly productive Lyndale, Hennepin, or Nicollet corridors). I’m sure there will be some bi-directional traffic within the Mpls stops and it will serve well as an extension of the CC line, but the reality is this will be used mostly for commuters who are sick of the ever increasing traffic commute from the SW suburbs.

    • Submitted by David Greene on 01/27/2013 - 12:41 am.

      Yes, cut off

      North Minneapolis has been cut off. By freeways. For decades.

      But no one bothers to remember the poor people.

      The very fact that liberals talk about and dismiss the Southwest LRT as a “suburban commuter line” betrays a tragic bias.

      Oh yes, by all means send the LRT through Uptown which ALREADY has some of the best transit service in the entire metro. Certainly we should spend $300 million extra to do that rather than actually serve transit-dependent populations in North Minneapolis that currently have no way to get to jobs in St. Louis Park, Hopkins and Eden Prairie.

      • Submitted by Alex Cecchini on 01/27/2013 - 08:52 am.

        I’m confused

        I’m not saying the development pattern was right, but are most of the people living in NE Mpls not in possession of a car? I’m not saying this has had a positive impact on their yearly expenditure share on transportation, either. Let’s also not forget what a rider’s situation would be upon disembarking at a platform in EP or Hopkins. Large parking garages, probably an apartment and maybe a decently designed strip of retail/commercial, then pedestrian nightmare anything beyond it. How will they get to their jobs in a situation like that? Is it even financially productive to focus getting people FROM Northeast Mpls to Minnetonka or Eden Prairie?

        But howbout this, we are concerned that inner to full-blown outer ring suburbs have jobs that people in Minneapolis can’t get to (I would argue that it’s “can’t get to affordably”). Is the solution to build a costly transportation network to get them there (in this case, I would say a LRT all the way to a suburb is akin to building yet another freeway), or is it to focus new and better zoning and transit dollars on jobs WHERE THEY LIVE or at least in the core of the city (or where we already have 2 transit lines – CC and Hiawatha with numerous opportunities for light to heavy industry and mixed use development).

        I understand that the uptown area has effective transit. But it is also very expensive to operate compared to LRT, and cannot serve the increasing demand that will occur over the next decade and beyond. You’ve seen the development in uptown, right? Also, the fact that the SWLRT crosses up in to Bryn Mawr doesn’t help the vast majority of the people you’re talking about. The Bottnieau corridor will serve much better in that regard.

        • Submitted by David Greene on 01/28/2013 - 12:37 pm.


          Not NE. North. There is a huge difference.

          The LRT serves more than Bryn Mawr. Harrison is on the alignment and realignment of bus transit and arterial BRT should be an effective way to get folks further north down to the stations.

          Right now, there is no reasonable way to take a bus from the northside to the southwest suburbs. Filling that gap is way more important than making the lives of Uptown liberals marginally more comfortable.

          Bottineau is also necessary. But Bottineau does not go to Eden Prairie. It’s not one or the other. It’s BOTH. And a Broadway streetcar.

          As for disembarking in the suburbs, the suburbs are already putting together access plans to get from the station areas to employment centers.

          Finally, the development potential at Penn and Van White is enormous. The Basset Creek Valley Master Plan has the Van White station as its centerpiece. It’s about getting people to jobs but also about bringing jobs to North Minneapolis.

          Uptown transit is some of the most efficient in the state. Yes, as far as aggregate numbers go, rail is more efficient than bus. But when you look at individual routes, the 6, 12, 21, 53, 5, 16, 50, etc. outperform the LRT on a cast basis because they are heavily used throughout the day.

          Uptown will get a Greenway streetcar and nice arterial BRT on Hennepin. That’s enough investment for a set of quite privileged neighborhoods.

          • Submitted by Alan Burden on 01/28/2013 - 03:24 pm.

            Buses don’t outperform LRT


            Sorry, but it’s highly unlikely that those bus routes outperform rail. First, simply because even rail suffers from lower ridership at selected times during the day and because ridership is always lighter at the end of the run. Every train is not packed to the gills. So it too averages out, just like the buses.

            Next, every bus needs a driver. But 1 person can operate 2, 3, and even 4 railcars. With salaries representing half the costs, and often more, of any transit operation that gives rail a huge advantage. And with fewer railcars than buses, you need fewer mechanics, again reducing costs.

            Finally, I can’t find anything from Metro on actual ridership numbers. However, according to the Trimet Factsheet for Portland, Oregon, their best bus routes account for 58% of the bus ridership. That means that those better bus routes account for 58% of the aggregate number for Trimet. And light rail still outperforms the buses by $1.56 per rider; $2.27 vs.$3.83 respectively.


            Page #3.

            However a better way to look at things is the cost per passenger mile, in Portland’s case Trimet spends $1.01 per pax/mile operating a bus and 43 cents per pax mile operating light rail. Metro spends 86 cents per pax/mile for buses and 44 cents for LRT.

            Even more importantly looking back to Portland again, Trimet moved 215,384,677 passenger miles by light rail and 219,728,219 by bus; a dead heat. Yet they spent $93,399,347 operating LRT and $222,887,559 operating the buses. More than double spent on buses, to move people basically just as far as light rail did.

          • Submitted by Alex Cecchini on 01/28/2013 - 05:13 pm.


            North or NE Mpls makes no difference when you’re talking about taking commuters from that location out to the burbs. 15 to 20 minute (more if they’re further north) on either a new line, Northstar, or future BRT arterials to the Interchange, then a wait for transfer, THEN a 20-35 minute commute out, THEN a final mile transfer.

            We’re talking about building a Bottineau line, streetcar line, SWLRT line, and everything inbetween to connect them to serve a population looking to get out to the SW suburbs. This is not about disenfranchising those residents, it’s about smart public policy.

            If those suburbs (all I have seen is Minnetonka) are truly creating a zoning/transit/housing plan to have more people live near those industries, then THAT is a solution that doesn’t require $3 billion of public investment and 1+ hour commutes. If North Minneapolis is trying to build industry, retail, etc jobs for the people who already live there, THAT is a solution as well. People can now choose to walk, bike, or take the local streetcar/bus to their job that is within 0-5 miles of where they live.

            We need to stop subsidizing stupid growth or development like that (in my opinion, building 2 separate transit lines like that for people to get out to poor development pattern burbs in the first place is no different than saying we need to expand the number and size of freeways to support it, along with free parking).

            Also, to paint the picture that Uptown is a bunch of “privileged” “liberals” distorts the number of people below the poverty line living all throughout the neighborhoods like Whittier, Stevens-Sq, Lyndale, etc. One of the big reasons I was opposed to the route chosen through Kenwood was that is didn’t serve (1) the existing dense population base further east and (2) served a much higher income group living near Lake of the Isles.

            I’m not arguing AGAINST the Bottineau/Broadway lines. I’m arguing that is is not sound public investment to build transit lines that largely serve the park and ride commuter and possibly people that will be forced in to a 1+ hour commute from N Mpls to the suburbs. Focus on development strategies that put jobs where they already live or allow them to move to where the jobs are. Or both!

            • Submitted by David Greene on 01/29/2013 - 08:10 am.


              You probably know that Whittier was against the Greenway alignment for Southwest LRT as it would have been hugely disruptive to businesses on Nicollet. And they are right.

              Is it really wise policy to spend an *extra* $300 million to bring a train to an area that already has very good transit service? The studies make it very clear why that is not a smart idea, whether one aceepts or ignores them. The numbers don’t work for that alignment.

              • Submitted by Alex Cecchini on 01/29/2013 - 09:03 am.

                Classic Case of NIMBY

                LRT disrupting business activity supposes that the automobile is the only way to bring in reliable business to the area. There are countless examples of surface rail transit in extremely healthy mixed use or solely retail/commercial districts. To say it would be hugely disruptive has 2 major flaws: (1) so won’t it be disruptive to wherever it goes? If where it goes doesn’t have business to be disrupted, WHY are we sending it through that area!? and (2) It ignores the principle that increased capacity, speed, and destination options will allow those areas served to continue development. Not only allowing more businesses and people to locate in that district, but to being people to it as well.

                The studies outlined a host of reasons why the alignment was chosen. Cost for acquiring right of way, environmental impact costs, cost to lay tracks (compared to the northern LPA where tracks exist in the trench), and neighborhood preference were the main drivers.

                • Submitted by Monica Millsap on 02/02/2013 - 04:43 pm.

                  For an example of why building transit in areas that wouldn’t be disrupted might be beneficial, here is an article from the San Francisco Chronicle which celebrates 100 years of the Muni: Twin Peaks was largely undeveloped and inaccessible to the rest of the city until public transit was built to the area. But, for San Francisco, investment in public transit was truly investment to help all people commute from one location to another – the poor, the business class, children, the leisure class, etc.

            • Submitted by Todd Hintz on 01/29/2013 - 09:57 pm.

              Uptown Alignment

              In advocating the the SW LRT go through Uptown people are missing a major point, namely that LRT is designed to make infrequent stops, to the tune of every couple miles. Uptown, on the other hand, needs stops every few blocks to serve its residents and businesses.

              That area of town would be better served with a streetcar system.

      • Submitted by Nick Magrino on 01/27/2013 - 03:43 pm.

        Well, the poor are talked about all the time. Usually in a competition between not poor people where someone tries to pretend to be the most concerned about the poor. The idea that a two seat transit ride is what’s keeping people mired in generational poverty on the Northside from getting IT jobs in the Golden Triangle is quite a leap of faith. You’d be better off aiming your concern for the Northside at the terrible decision to route Bottineau through Theodore Wirth Park–that’s some actual injustice there.

        • Submitted by Alex Cecchini on 01/28/2013 - 09:47 am.

          Ever consider

          that most of the people discussing the “poor” are not fighting over who is more concerned, but simply having a discussion on what they feel is the most equitable, productive, and balanced approach to serving as many people as possible with whatever funds are available (or fighting for more to increase whatever they are discussing)? Outside a few grandstanding/pandering politicians I would argue this is mostly the case.

        • Submitted by David Greene on 01/28/2013 - 12:42 pm.


          Do you know the jobs skills available in North Minneapolis? Harrison did a skills inventory and the available skill set matches up almost perfectly with what’s in the suburban job centers. Assuming those skills aren’t present in the North Minneapolis population is another subtle bias in our collective thinking.

          As for Bottineau, the communities on Broadway and Penn were evenly split on the alignment. I’m not willing to tear down hundreds of houses to route LRT down Penn unless the neighborhoods are clearly for it. I’m fairly certain an alignment all the way down Broadway would be best but that ship sailed a long time ago.

          In order to make decisions, one must actually get familiar with the populations one is trying to serve. I agree that too many liberals try to advocate for the poor and minority populations without actually understanding their needs. Everything I have said comes straight from the neighborhoods. I’m not the one creating the arguments and deciding what those communities need. They are, as it should be.

          We are pushing very hard for a streetcar on Broadway. It should be the first streetcar line built in the city.

          • Submitted by Alex Cecchini on 01/28/2013 - 03:00 pm.

            What is different

            about the suburban job centers versus other places in the core areas of the city? I’d be interested to see the study you cite, but to claim that we need a LRT line that goes all the way out to EP to bring people from NE Mpls to their job centers seems dubious considering the alternatives (focusing new zoning laws in NE Mpls to allow for those job profiles, focusing transit to other areas with higher value that have those job profiles, encouraging whatever housing needs the skill profile population requires in the areas of those jobs like EP/Tonka, etc – there are plenty of alternatives). At a higher level I’m still confused how the SW LRT route benefits the population of much of NE Mpls given it barely crosses north of 394. A trip from any NE Mpls neighborhood to the Tgt Field station transfer (or any point along the green line) would make for a 1+ hour commute to the SW suburbs each way.

            • Submitted by David Greene on 01/28/2013 - 05:07 pm.


              We are talking about North Minneapolis.

              Not Northeast. Not Southeast. Not downtown. Not South. *Certainly* not Southwest.

              North Minneapolis residents need jobs TODAY. Not ten years from now when zoning gets changed and development begins again on the northside.

              The LRT is not just a transportation device. It is also a development tool. Yes, it’s about getting people to jobs but it’s also about bringing jobs and housing north of 394.

              Even with your very dubious assumption of a 1 hour commute, that’s still twice as fast as things are today. And in reality it will be faster than one hour for a great many people.

              Please go and talk with some residents of North Minneapolis. Actually, don’t talk. Listen.

              • Submitted by Alex Cecchini on 01/29/2013 - 09:34 am.

                I get it

                I replied before I saw your correction above. Calm down. Not that it matters, as NE is in just as much need as North.

                If they need jobs NOW, TODAY, I’m confused why you cling to the SW LRT as the silver bullet. The SW LRT is easily 4 years away from operation (slated for 2017, most likely will open early 2018). The Bottineau and Broadway transit lines (whatever they are) won’t finish any sooner. Houses/apartments in the SW burbs go up pretty darn fast. Local buses in NORTH Mpls and new commercial/light industrial jobs can start up or move in pretty quickly as well. I would say at least as soon as those lines could go in, if not faster.

                My assumption is not dubious. Why don’t you define to me where the jobs are that people in NORTH Mpls will be going to, break it down by % for each stop. Then we can talk about how long the LRT line will take to get there for each of those commuters and find a weighted average. How long they’ll wait for a transfer at the station (whether that’s Van White or the Interchange). Then how long it would take to get THERE from their home. The SW LRT is proposed to be 3 miles longer than the Hiawatha line with only 1 fewer stop. Hiawatha takes 40 minutes from one end to the other. How “dubious” is it to assume that a couple fewer stops than the full ride, transfer time, another line ride time, etc could take at least an hour? I will also hold my breath to assume the last 1-2 miles of the journey will be a walkable or quick (by local bus) one for transit riders going SW. Look at the EP SW Bus station. What could someone walk to there? How long would a circulator bus take to get from the station to any number of job centers that are all currently auto dependent and low-density??

                I’m not saying cars are the best answer for how we structure our development. In an assumption that the only option for the vast majority of people in NORTH Mpls to obtain jobs is to focus on the SW suburbs… how on earth can you say that reverse commuting from any of those locations to Hopkins or EP would 2 hours or more?? I lived in Marcy Holmes for 2 years commuting to Chanhassen every day and the drive was 29 minutes in perfect weather, 35-40 in rain.

                My point is not to say “car reigns king!” It is to point out the better, faster, smarter options for development and jobs is to focus LOCALLY. Whether that means living closer to the jobs or bringing the jobs closer to the people who live there. Stop treating huge transit projects as magic beans or hail marys to spur development in an area. That’s why I believe the SW LRT, if it should exist at all, should have run through the already productive, high-service Uptown area. It is an incremental step up in transit service over what exists there already, but it will be supported as people and businesses are ALREADY moving there and exploding the population. Serve the current and very likely future demand with higher capacity transit and continue to make the area less car-dependent.

                • Submitted by David Greene on 01/29/2013 - 01:20 pm.


                  > Not that it matters, as NE is in just as much need as North.

                  That is a fantastically insulting statement. The populations of North and Northeast are quite different. There are environmental justice communities in both, but I’m pretty sure there are more of them in North.

                  The thing that transportation planners and many transit advocates fail to understand is that there is much more to transportation than getting from A to B and racial and economic demographics play a huge role. We cannot ignore them. We cannot simply use engineering numbers to make decisions. Social factors are enormous.

                  We’re both a little loose with our travel times, but that’s not actually even the point. LRT is a big public investment. It will provide access and bring jobs. It is not a silver bullet, but it is a major improvement. It’s long past time North got an investment like that.

                  Yes, location efficiency is important but transit drives location efficiency. More service will undoubtedly bring more compact and efficient development. We’re already getting tons of that in Uptown. There are something like three tower cranes up right now. Sure we want to see the same in North.

                  • Submitted by Alex Cecchini on 01/29/2013 - 02:47 pm.

                    That’s the problem

                    with our current mindset and developmental thinking. Make the public investment first and things will follow. It cannot continue to be that way. The development of infrastructure and utilities needs to follow the demand for it, not the other way around.

                    My statement was not insulting, in intention or practice. Median incomes and unemployment between the 2 areas are very close (and much more similar to each other than many other Mpls neighborhoods, which is what I was getting at).

                    I’m not arguing that N Mpls doesn’t need improvement in access/mobility. But we shouldn’t be concerned about getting anyone to a place 20, 30 miles away. It’s why I’m fundamentally against the 35W corridor, Cedar BRT, or any further (and all the past) enhancements/extensions of our freeways and interchanges.

                    I wasn’t loose with my travel times in showing you how long it actually takes to get from a neighborhood in N Mpls to a few proposed stations along the SWLRT according to set route schedules by MT. The POINT is that even with the huge investment of 2 LRTs and possibly a streetcar, there is still a huge injustice done to North residents attempting to find a job that matches their skillset somewhere in SW burbs. And the improvement we’re talking about in transit time will be, what, 20 minutes? Howbout improve transit time by 1 hour and 20 minutes by locating jobs closer to the core (and therefore them)??

                    Can you link me to the Harrison study you spoke about earlier as I’m very interested.

                    • Submitted by David Greene on 01/30/2013 - 07:25 am.


                      Well, we’re going to have to agree to disagree.

                      I don’t have a link to the Harrison report but I’m sure if you get in touch with them they’d be happy to help.

              • Submitted by Alex Cecchini on 01/29/2013 - 09:58 am.

                Dubious Claim

                People living in N Mpls commute times by car and current public transit in the morning from a fairly northern location to several spots along the proposed SW LRT path, arriving at or before 8 AM

                N Mpls to Shady Oak Station:

                N Mpls to Golden Triangle Station:

                N Mpls to EP SW Station:

                The longest ride, from fairly far north in N Mpls to the furthest west station takes 1 hour 34 minutes by bus. I showed the car travel times to highlight 2 things: (1) the degree to which we’ve invested in roads and highways as our primary transportation method and the amount of sprawl it has helped induce and (2) to show there is a viable option – if there are as many jobs that meet the profile of current N Mpls residents as you say, I would argue that carpooling is an option to reduce costs and give flexibility on time. People do it commuting in to the city as well.

                But your claim that current conditions to get to the SW job locations takes easily over 2x my “dubious” 1 hour proposal explicitly states the commutes are at least 2 hours (I assumed you meant by bus since a 2 hour car reverse commute is pretty outlandish) is at least as dubious as mine.

                Let me again clarify, I’m not saying that a Bottineau LRT/Broadway SC + SW LRT configuration wouldn’t be an improvement over current conditions in regard to public transit speed. My point is that we shouldn’t let that be the only solution to the problem. The problem statement is: “residents in N Mpls do not have access to jobs that meet their skillsets in under an hour commute by anything but car.” What are the best solutions to this problem?

  11. Submitted by Robert Helland on 01/28/2013 - 08:56 pm.

    Game-changing? Ummm….

    I frankly don’t see adding a 7-county metro transit tax on top of a 5-county metro transit improvement tax qualifies as “game-changing”. To businesses, it’s playing a lot of the same games they really dislike. I would implore Governor Dayton to take a broader, statewide consideration of transit needs – a sentiment echoed by many posters (a lot of great individual comments) here and indicated by Ms. Harris herself (the author):

    “Given all that, maybe the 0.25 percent add-on should apply statewide, with funds from Greater Minnesota going to repair roads and bridges and those collected in the seven-county area designated for transit.”

    This is the best constructive criticism of the Governor’s plan I have read in a local newspaper and I would certainly support it.

    I support the Dayton plan over the status quo because I believe largely in the purposes and services as provided by government, or collective investment and action in general. But… Where are the new ideas in tax reform? And, where were the young voices in shaping this plan? Speaking for my generation, this plan really misses the mark

    Well, I am both a young and powerful voice on business, economics and taxation and I have a host of ideas you’ve never heard of for tax ‘reform’ and by the end of this thing, I am confident you will have heard them. Why? Because I am the “One Man Tax Plan”. I need young people to find me.

    ~Bob Helland
    “The One Man Tax Plan MN” on Facebook

    • Submitted by Alex Cecchini on 01/29/2013 - 09:09 am.

      Great idea

      Let’s continue to fund the auto-dependent infrastructure we have with MORE money!

      Howbout this. Cancel the St Croix bridge boondoggle, whose investment won’t even pay for itself, ever ( Use those funds to repair whatever streets, bridges, and freeways that ARE productive (I know, under the rules/strings attached to the federal money you can only use it NEW things… great. Cut the fed component out). Then use Dayton’s proposed tax to fund more productive transit that is (1) equitable, (2) multi-use supporting (you can walk or bike to a transit stop, even be dropped off by bar), (3) supportive of places that are already productive.

      • Submitted by Robert Helland on 01/29/2013 - 06:43 pm.

        Thanks, Alex, I am glad you support this idea.

        Read: Sarcasm is not very effective in a written medium. (Note: I am not pro-Stillwater bridge and that is a tangent to my argument.)

        Despite the sarcastic first sentence, I’m confused because you appear to agree with everything else that I’ve laid out regarding sales tax paying for transit, which was in support of the author’s, Ms. Harris, comment:

        “Given all that, maybe the 0.25 percent add-on should apply statewide, with funds from Greater Minnesota going to repair roads and bridges and those collected in the seven-county area designated for transit.”

        Dayton’s tax plan is not equitable to 80 out of 87 counties who receive no dedicated funding for infrastructure maintenance, or Ford forbid, infrastructure development in the 21st century. But when the visit the Metro as the oft do, they will help support systems they don’t use to get their?

        We live in Minnesota. We need to be realistic about the “willingness” of Minnesotans to use “multi-use”.

        The most productive area in the state is the 7-county metro, unquestionably. I’ll leave your third priority speak for itself.

        I am not particularly focused on transit plans, development and repair, rather I am focused on efficient tax administration and proper statewide funding, not regional winners and losers, and in my opinion, this is where the Dayton plan could be improved.

        The alternative is to: (1) let non-metro MN communities go unfunded so they must (2) raise property tax rates to pay for repair and development which will require (3) the state to pay for the increase through (a) increased LGA and (b) homeowners’ tax rebates which are paid in part out of (4) increased sales tax revenues from the expanded base! Why not skip (1) through three (3) build in the funding to the sales tax, which is tax most paid by non-Minnesotans (just guessing)?


        onemantaxplan @

        • Submitted by Alex Cecchini on 01/30/2013 - 01:59 pm.

          My sarcasm

          Was meant more at the premise of continuing to tax ourselves to fund the low-productivity development we have across the state. Bringing up the St Croix bridge was a point to show how we not only tax ourselves or put ourselves further in debt to maintain what we have, but we also spend our own money alongside federal money to build NEW stuff (that we can’t afford to maintain).

          My take on Ms Harris’ comment was that it seems odd to funnel a tax, whether state-wide or only in the metro region, to one source of transit. I’m happy Dayton proposed spending on public transit as I believe it has a higher chance of being productive (with lower long-term operating costs per trip than roads). Why is this logic not true for the rest of the state? Why choose to earmark more money for one transport method that has proven itself unsustainable?

          Your alternative of “(1) let non-metro MN communities go unfunded so they must (2) raise property tax rates to pay for repair and development” is exactly what needs to happen at all levels of our state, not just non-metro counties. We need to have a serious talk about contraction, not expansion. If roads and the things they serve (people’s homes, businesses, etc) cannot support the very infrastructure through property taxes (and slightly through state sales tax to feed state roads), then they need to be seriously evaluated. One option is to go the route you said – increase property taxes to maintain what they have. This will slightly alter the housing and commercial retail markets to a more free-market system, but it won’t fully get the job done (and also has negative impacts on families and businesses). The other, longer-term solution (that certainly comes with pain) is to let those places decline. People will need to make the hard choice to start living in such a manner that is supported by the tax levels they’ve been willing (or able) to pay.

          I apologize for the sarcasm. It makes me come off like an ass, and I didn’t mean it to be that way.

  12. Submitted by John Meyer on 02/01/2013 - 12:01 pm.


    What becomes painfully obvious is that cities… pretty much all cities…. have failed to have vision for the future. In most cases, they fail to plan for anything much further than yesterday. Their planning is reactionary, trying to meet the needs that have been created, rather than letting the planning drive the creation. We “allow” the city to develop haphazardly through time, rather than visualize what we want it to look like and function and how we will choose to provide for its transportation, development, and housing needs 50 or 100 years or more from now… will the current trajectory of reactionary city planning be sustainable or affordable/cost effective in the future?

    I would suggest that for the most part, the old adage, “build it and they will come” is correct… but the difficult part there is that you have to “build it” before the economy is there to support it. If we were to choose to build a city from scratch today, we already know that if there are people and jobs, there will be a need for transportation and housing. How would we choose to accomodate those needs if we were starting all over from scratch? In an ideal world, what would we want that city to look and function like? How will we maintain continued growth and opportunities for this city and others? Clearly, the best plan would not be to have ever expanding boundaries gobbling up the limited agricultural plains from which we derive our food source, forcing us to transport our people over vast distances every day. Our city of vision MUST incorporate a plan whereby its population density, both in terms of people and their residences, and businesses that provide their jobs, can continue to increase far beyond its current status. That requires good planning for higher efficiency, much higher density transportation as our city core evolves. It requires housing that is far more population dense than most any of our current midwest metropolitan areas. Our land mass MUST be recognized as limited… and we MUST build vertically… with ever increasing multiple story infrastructure and buildings. We MUST move people into “high-rise” apartment buildings and offices and businesses, and in order to provide for their transportation needs, we MUST have highly efficient mass transit systems in place when these buildings are erected, just to sustain their higher cost of construction. EVERYTHING we do in this city MUST be able to function without the “personal vehicle”, because the city simply won’t have enough space to allow for them. OF COURSE it will be cheaper to use mass transit at that point… the realestate for all the roadways alone would be far too valuable to be able to support all those highways and parking lots.

    It’s important for every city, of any size today, to visualize realistically what they might look like in 100 years or more, and to plan well for it. Those who do will have a bright future. Those who don’t will be mired down in a quagmire of political battles over “where can we build our next parking lot” and “how are we going to get the people from halfway across the state into the business district of our city”.

    We cannot continue to build “suburbs of suburbs” and transport people in daily from all over the state. It is unsustainable to continue to build residential areas out into our productive and essential rural agricultural lands. Productive land is a very limited, finite resource. We cannot continue on an unsustainable path to starvation. How much will be left to grow our food source on, if we continue as we are for another 100 years?

    Build a highly efficient network of core city mass transportation, excluding the suburbs from it, except with a spur line that interconnects with other large cities. This will spur economic development activity surrounding this core city infrastructure, because of its transporation. The city will build UP. Do NOT expand this excellent core city transportation infrastructure, those areas will become highly sought after and highly valuable, the expansion of the cities boundaries will slow or stop completely. Demand, through the quality of infrastructure services, that the city build vertically, instead of horizontally, and it will thrive.

  13. Submitted by Greg Smith on 09/30/2013 - 10:15 am.

    Build more highway milkes,

    Build more highway miles, simple as that. Buses are more than sufficient.

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