A misguided theme has disappointingly persisted in some small circles at the Minnesota Legislature: attacking metro regional transportation and vilifying widely supported transit projects. Southwest Light Rail, the extension of the Green Line, has been the focus of this unfair derision — demonized by a select few legislators who have ignored the line’s excellent cost-benefit ratio and extensive public review and approval process.
A select few Republican legislators have introduced legislation that jeopardizes almost $1 billion in federal matching funds. Particularly surprising is the unyielding opposition of metro legislator Sen. David Osmek, R-Mound. He argues that buses are sufficient. They are not. Regions that build bus systems underperform those that build rail in tandem with bus service across every important indicator of competitiveness and return on investment. The senator should quit wasting precious time attempting to “derail” this transit line — currently accepting bids for fall construction — and focus instead on building a sustainable transportation system, health-care affordability, and public education at all levels.
Another anti-transit bill, also authored by Osmek, prohibits the use of any public resources, including those from local governments, for transit lines without prior legislative approval. This removes local government control to use their own local resources for projects that their communities, regions, and businesses support. Osmek’s business-oriented constituents who live around Lake Minnetonka and elsewhere know that every major economic region in the world has a viable passenger rail system. They tell us that their ability to recruit top job candidates will be enhanced by a robust light rail system.
If they looked, these legislators would see strong support in the business community. There will be over $5 billion in new development along the line and 65,000 jobs within walking distance to the corridor. Those federal tax dollars will just go to another state should we fail to act. They would see existing commuter rail systems in Arizona, Utah, and Texas, where, although more conservative, they eclipse our own investment in regional rail transit systems.
This project has been targeted by a few Republican legislators looking for a straw man to blame for economic concerns in Greater Minnesota. They seem to have forgotten that, at two-thirds of the state’s GDP, metro economic success helps pay for statewide services and infrastructure. Playing chicken with significant federal funds that our taxpayers deserve, because of an illogical disdain for all rail transit, is not a win for Minnesotans.
Ron Latz, DFL-St. Louis Park; Scott Dibble, DFL-Minneapolis; and Steve Cwodzinski, DFL-Eden Prairie, serve in the Minnesota Senate.
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