We agree with Gov. Mark Dayton when he identifies investment in metro area transit as a critical issue to be resolved during any special legislative session. Despite contention at the Capitol over transit, there is widespread agreement within the business community about this policy. From Fortune 500 CEOs to chamber organizations across Minnesota, leaders are in alignment around the goal of a whole-state solution to the need for transportation spending including resources for roads, bridges and transit. What stands in the way is lack of political agreement. This gridlock threatens our capacity to put in place a much-needed transportation/transit funding solution to turn what is a looming liability for our state and metro into a competitive asset.
Multimodal transit development is a key element to maintain our competitiveness with other regions across the United States. Employers tell us the people they seek to attract to work at their businesses are drawn to transit options, the lack of which will lessen our ability to bring talent here. For workers already living in the Twin Cities, a burgeoning transit system will open up more job opportunities than ever before. Just as one example, some 255,000 additional existing jobs will be within a 40-minute commute for riders on the proposed Green Line extension (Southwest LRT). 64,000 new jobs are expected to be added within a half mile of stations along that line by 2035.
Jobs and development
Transportation investment, including in transit, also means construction jobs, business for companies providing materials and supplies, payroll that will be spent throughout the state, and associated economic and housing development especially related to LRT corridors.
Focusing just on metro area transit, ridership is growing led by the Blue Line LRT, which is already 28 percent over projected 2020 ridership, and the newer Green Line, which is at 91 percent of expected 2030 ridership today. These figures will grow as an overall network combining several modes is put in place between now and 2040.
One mode in particular, LRT, is a hot button for some at the Legislature. But LRT is here to stay, and an important part of the planned future regional network. At some point we must simply agree to disagree and move on. Otherwise, in their fervor to turn back SWLRT as the current line in queue for development by opposing a new and dedicated funding source for transit, opponents put at risk all future federal support and timely build out of the entire metro area plan featuring innovative rapid bus corridors and improved overall bus service. This result will inevitably cost the region and state economic growth opportunities and needlessly delay important transportation investments elsewhere in Minnesota while the stalemate in St. Paul continues.
Essential to goal of economic prominence
The other, more positive outcome available to our state leaders is agreement on a package that meets all of our transportation and transit needs for the next decade, fueling further expansion and a continuation of the positive “run” our state had been on in recent years compared to neighboring states.
It is one thing to outperform, as Minnesota has, other states in the Midwest. It is another to take our place nationally and even internationally as a region of economic prominence. In the opinion of many business leaders, adopting a comprehensive transportation funding program which includes transit is an essential step toward achieving that higher aspiration.
Steve Cramer is the president and CEO of the Minneapolis Downtown Council. John Stanoch is the interim president and CEO of the Minneapolis Regional Chamber of Commerce. Matt Kramer is the president of the St. Paul Area Chamber of Commerce.
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