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It’s time for holdouts in the Legislature to accept rail transit

Courtesy of Metro Transit
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.

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.

Sen. Ron Latz

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.

Sen. Scott Dibble

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.

Sen. Steve Cwodzinski

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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Comments (28)

  1. Submitted by Frank Phelan on 03/20/2017 - 09:39 am.

    If Steel Is So Much Better

    Why does the East Metro get rubber while the West gets steel?

    • Submitted by Bob Alberti on 03/20/2017 - 02:15 pm.

      Magic isn’t real

      I THINK you’re asking “If rail transit is so much better why are there still buses in the East Metro?”

      The answer, if I am correct, is because there is no such thing as magic. Rail transit has to be planned and rail routes funded, created, cleared, and built. Every single rail installation takes years, in part because of biased, ignorant opponents like the ones mentioned in the article. So if you think that Steel is So Much Better, then get behind efforts to build more rail. And if you don’t then stop asking silly leading questions that make so sense.

      • Submitted by Frank Phelan on 03/20/2017 - 03:18 pm.


        For my “silly leading” question. Who ever suggested that rail eliminates the need for buses?

        Here in the east, we have one rail line, and it goes to MPLS. The other rapid transit lines out of St. Paul are all looking like they will be bus lines. Those routes are being “planned, funded, created, and cleared” as we speak, but no steel is in the forecast. As far as magic thinking, are you suggesting that the bus rapid transit lines planned for the east metro will somehow morph into rail?

        If rail is the key to development in the west metro, as the authors of the article allege (and I agree with), why is it not the key to development in the east metro?

        Perhaps a little less snark and little more dialogue?

  2. Submitted by Steve Go on 03/20/2017 - 10:56 am.

    Time to install turnstyles to stop “free” rides

    Any new transit stop or new trains should have a turnstyle that will requirement payment BEFORE you get on the train (just like our buses do now.) The idea that everyone pays for its’ use is ridiculous. We have one of the few (if only) LRT systems in the U.S. that practices the “honor system” of paying before you ride…yet as everyone knows, hundreds of people don’t pay and ride for free everyday.

    Instead of worrying about losing subsidies, how about worrying about what to do stop the cheats who get the “free ride” because they can.

    • Submitted by Frank Phelan on 03/20/2017 - 12:41 pm.

      This Is Big Deal To Conservatives

      One of the key values of conservatives is to prevent “undeserving” people from getting something for free. This is of far more import to Conservatives than to progressives, and progressives would do well to take note.

      It’s been shown that the infrastructure cost of installing and maintaining turnstiles (& other related hardware) does not merit the cost. Fare collections go up, but not to the extent that it covers the increased costs. This is basic conservative economics, understandable to any business operator. No matter to conservatives, because all they see is someone getting something for free, despite the real risk of getting a ticket from a transit cop.

      When my old man was in the US navy, he paid a life insurance premium every month. Then some bean counter pointed out that the cost of giving every sailor the insurance was less than the cost of collecting monthly premiums form just some sailors. Did that mean some of the fellas got something for “free”?

      This conservative value is also currently on display in the so-called House Freedom Caucus efforts to torpedo Ryancare. One of their big concerns is that there will be tax credits, which they consider someone getting something for free.

      I don’t consider this value wrong, though any value can be mis-applied or conflict with a greater value. But if we are ever to get opposing sides to understand each other again in this country, progressives should understand how important this is to conservatives.

      • Submitted by Gary DeVaan on 03/21/2017 - 04:40 pm.

        I agree but disagree

        I understand that the gains might not cover the cost, but I can’t imagine a few barricades and turnstiles cost that much with new construction. If it makes a few people feel better about the project, build them.

    • Submitted by Joseph Totten on 03/20/2017 - 11:46 pm.

      Most LRT Systems Are Proof of Payment

      Confused by your statement, I googled a few areas I knew had decent light rail systems, and I think you may be confusing modes… Light Rail is a type of rail that crosses at grade intersections and can have some small shared use infrastructure. Cities like Chicago, New York, and DC have only HEAVY rail or subways, LA and San Francisco have a mix of both. Most LRT systems have proof-of-payment fare collection systems.

      Anyways, here are light rail systems by type of fare collection.;

      Portland MAX – Proof-of-Payment
      Seattle LINK – Proof-of-Payment
      Houston METROrail – Proof-of-Payment
      Saint Louis MetroLink – Proof-of-Payment
      Norfolk TIDE – Proof-of-Payment
      Phoenix ValleyMetro – Proof-of-Payment
      Salt Lake City TRAX – Proof-of-Payment
      Baltimore LightRail – Proof-of-Payment
      Charlotte LYNX – Proof-of-Payment
      Buffalo NY – Proof-of-Payment
      Dallas – Proof-of-Payment
      Denver – Proof-of-Payment
      Hudson-Bergen LRT (NJ) – Proof-of-Payment
      Newark – Proof-of-Payment
      Sacramento – Proof-of-Payment
      San Diego – Proof-of-Payment
      San Fransico (MUNI) – Proof-of-Payment
      Santa Clara – Proof-of-Payment

      18 of 23 systems I saw were proof-of-payment, and of the other 5 only 1 clearly stated there were gates throughout the system.

      Boston (?) – Looks like turnstiles some places, but not everywhere…
      Philidelphia (?)
      Cleveland – Turnstiles
      Pittsburgh (?)
      LA added fare collection gates to some of its network, not even every station, and the retrofit was over $150,000,000.

    • Submitted by Todd Hintz on 03/21/2017 - 12:27 pm.

      Cost/Benefit Analysis

      The cost of putting in a turn style system is greater than the benefit of recovering a few fares. So you would actually lose money by implementing the system Mr. Go has proposed.

  3. Submitted by Greg Pratt on 03/20/2017 - 11:22 am.


    Osmek needs to be removed. What a short sighted backwards thinker. Light rail has been terrific and needs to be incorporated into regional planning. If anything the system is already late and in need of more routes.

  4. Submitted by Tim Milner on 03/20/2017 - 12:31 pm.

    This has been my beef all along

    on the funding for rail. As stated above:

    “There will be over $5 billion in new development along the line and 65,000 jobs within walking distance to the corridor.”

    If this statement is true, and I believe it is based on what has happened on other rail lines, the tax increments gain in property taxes would more than adequately cover the state’s portion of the rail costs.

    In my opinion, rail has become far more a development tool than a transportation tool. Routes have been meticulous chosen not to move people in the most efficient way but as a way to develop or redevelop vast areas.

    And I am actually quite fine with that. But if it’s truly development, than we should be using development financing tools (TIF, IRB, etc) to pay the publics costs not state money. But the communities and counties involved want nothing to do with that – they want the State to pay while they gather the windfall in taxes that come from the redevelopment.

    Hence the standoff.

  5. Submitted by Bob Petersen on 03/20/2017 - 12:31 pm.

    Article that goes nowhere

    Was this written for a purpose? There is zero reason given on why light rail should be expanded. I guess there is one part on the $5 billion to be invested with many jobs. But what is that based upon? Existing rail lines have given nearly nothing except perpetual rider subsidies that taxpayers will continue to pay for, despite the mass number of them that will never ride them. From what has already been built, the return on the investment has been terrible.

    And the DFL wonders why they have been losing seats.

    • Submitted by Joel Stegner on 03/20/2017 - 10:04 pm.

      Every highway mile is subsidized

      Gas taxes and license fees pay only a small portion of the cost of roads and bridges. Most of the cost is paid by taxpayers.

      An article today described how taxes on metro residents, many who never leave the metro, help fund rural roads and bridges. Because we have transit, metro area don’t have to spend extraordinary amount of money expanding roads to keep commute times in reason.

      A guy living in Mound can easily commute to the Legislature in St. Paul only because all the cities on his route have borne the social costs of the 394, 35W, 94 corridor. If he was less self centered, he would realize that the poor people whose neighborhoods disrupted by the freeway without cars need to get to jobs just as much as he does and cut out his political motivated obstruction.

    • Submitted by Todd Hintz on 03/21/2017 - 12:45 pm.

      Transit Benefits

      There are plenty of reasons why we should build out a robust transit system. Chief among them is it’s more efficient to move people by rail than it is bus or car. Not only do you save fuel, but you cut down on emissions as a result of using that fuel too.

      But here’s some additional food for thought.

      If you only build a road system, then everyone is forced to drive. Adding trains to the mix gives the public options that aren’t normally on the table. There are a lot of people who can’t afford a car, which typically cost people between $6000 and $9000 per year to buy and maintain. There are a lot of people who are too young to drive, too old, have a disability that prevents driving, or don’t want to shoulder the cost of a car. Not to mention people from out of town who are unfamiliar with our road system and don’t want to drive in our traffic.

      Throw a train system into the mix and all these people have options to get around, which boosts our businesses and tourism economies.

      Looking at the southwest line in particular, many of the businesses along the line don’t have the physical space to park all the cars needed for their employees. They would like to see the the line go through so they can expand their companies and add more employees, but the roads and parking facilities are already at capacity.

      • Submitted by Roy Everson on 03/22/2017 - 09:55 am.

        Choice contributes to happiness

        The happiness (or at least contentedness) regularly documented in countries such as Norway and Denmark is a result of many factors, but one that should not be ignored is the advanced and entrenched networks of public transit found in both nations. The option of not driving, not walking, not taking taxi or Uber or whatever — that’s a huge thing for many folks, even those who value their cars and appreciate reduced traffic.

  6. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 03/20/2017 - 12:52 pm.

    Local government

    Local control is a Republican mantra—until it inconveniently touches upon an issue that Republicans don’t like, at which point dispense with local control rhetoric. It’s hypocritical on its face, and Mr. Osmek obviously lacks much of the background knowledge to make an informed case against mass transit that uses rail instead of streets. His opposition is based on… what? Ideology? An “I hate cities” mind set? Reason doesn’t appear to be part of it.

    The Senators above are right on the mark about one thing: if we don’t build it, some other metro area will get a billion dollars from the federal government to build their own system. In case this obvious point escapes Mr. Osmek and his ideological allies, that means that Minnesotans will be helping some other metro area to build a light rail line. Since the metro is the economic engine of the state, it’s perverse to insist that the Twin Cities compete with other metro areas for economic development after adding an additional handicap in the form of inadequate transit.

    We’re about to find out just how inadequate Twin Cities transit is. Just watch the public annoyance level rise as MNDoT restricts I-94 from the Lowry Tunnel north to 694. More than 100,000 vehicles use that road every day, and both the highway itself, as well as relevant entry and exit ramps, will all be seeing significant work (and significant down time) over the next 6 months. It’s an area, since Mr. Osmek has likely visited it rarely, if at all, that relies solely on cars and buses for transit, so disrupting those traffic lanes, when there’s no alternative means of transit, is going to upset a LOT of people. I hope they all send angry messages to the transit obstructionists in the legislature.

    • Submitted by Tom Anderson on 03/25/2017 - 11:11 pm.

      As I am not familiar with the varoius lines

      Which proposed route fixes the Lowry tunnel mess in the future?

      It would be sad if some other part of the country got our billion dollars that the federal government doesn’t have ($20 trillion national debt).

  7. Submitted by Robin Rainford on 03/20/2017 - 06:16 pm.

    Natural Next Step

    Recently I attended a funeral in Los Angeles. Between the church and the cemetery, half the mourners were caught in freeway congestion and the burial went on while we crept along.

    LA is the example of a city grown too big for it’s freeway arteries. They can’t build enough roadway to keep up. The bus system takes off some of the pressure in office hours but contributes no real transit alternative. The greatest annoyance to residents is the uncertainty: how long to the airport? 30 minutes at midnight but 90 minutes in the day? Or more?

    I hope our cities can be forward looking to build a transit system that is right-sized to our growing metropolis. It’s a failure of planning to end up with a situation like LA, with all its fish in one barrel and few options now to build affordable mass transit. If it’s expensive now, imagine how much more costly it will be in a few years when we bump up against capacity limits for car systems.

    • Submitted by Karen Sandness on 03/25/2017 - 02:49 pm.

      Even Los Angeles

      has realized that building more freeways would be counterproductive, and it has been building rail lines for many years. It is also expanding its bus service.

      When I was there for a conference a few years ago, a local transit advocate informed me that I could spend my Sunday in Santa Monica by hopping the express bus that ran every half hour from a certain location.

  8. Submitted by Richard Adair on 03/20/2017 - 07:41 pm.

    Respect for professional expertise?

    I appreciate that everyone reading this has a right to their opinion. But what I don’t get is that Sen Osmek and many rural Republican legislators seem to think they understand the complexities of how people move around in an environment very different from theirs.

    To get federal funding, rail transit must pass strict guidelines scored by professional civil engineers showing that it’s more cost effective than the alternatives (no build, bus rapid transit, local buses, adding freeway lanes). ONLY SWLRT and Bottineau meet this test. No routes in the east metro. Riverview study not completed.

    Rail transit in these corridors is LESS expensive than other options considering both construction and operating costs, and is the most efficient way to get traffic flowing in the west metro, because highway traffic flows at 95% capacity but not 101% due to the laws of physics.

  9. Submitted by Richard Adair on 03/20/2017 - 10:09 pm.

    Respecting expertise

    Some people, including Sen Osmek, seem to think they know as much as professional traffic engineers about how to improve our clogged roads.

    In fact, to obtain federal funding a rail line must meet very strict criteria regarding passenger trips and cost, and must be superior to all other options including adding freeway lanes, improving bus service, or doing nothing at all. The only 2 corridors in the metro that meet these standards are SWLRT and Bottineau.

    This process is not driven by opinion or politics; it’s driven by engineering professionals who understand the physics of what happens when major highways are over capacity. We should respect their expertise.

  10. Submitted by jim smart on 03/21/2017 - 03:43 pm.


    I do have a bit of a problem with their comment “excellent cost-benefit ratio and extensive public review and approval process.” We all know that this SWLRT route has been vetted about as well as Donald Trump was vetted!! IT’S A BOONDOGGLE of gigantic proportions!! (Like 2 billion dollars worth!)

  11. Submitted by Joe Musich on 03/21/2017 - 10:09 pm.

    There are those who wish …

    to keep the human race in the Dark Ages of transportation. Let’s just put stone wheels on our cars and transport vehicles. I have no idea the reason that we see rail as it seems to be viewed except pure outright bias. We are the greatest contributor to global climate change. Using petroleum products has been our societal failing like or not or believe it or not. We must move ahead. Political the forces of reason do not seem to have control of of the politics at the moment. It is outlandish that a metro area that we have does not a have a more modern transportation system for the visitors to our cities and state. We should be ashamed.

    • Submitted by Todd Hintz on 03/22/2017 - 12:34 pm.

      Root Cause

      LRT is drawing Republican’s ire for the same reason the Met Council is: development. And by that I’m not talking about proposed development along the LRT line, but rather development in the outlying suburbs. Here’s what’s going on in that arena.

      Developers have bought a lot of farm land in the far reaches of the burbs, such as Rogers and Farmington. But they have a hard time developing that land into houses and strip malls without getting utility hookups. That’s where the Met Council comes in as they provide that infrastructure, which, in effect, subsidizes new development.

      A few years ago the Met realized the inner city wasn’t getting much lovin’ compared to the suburbs, so they redid the formula. That new formula gives greater weight to inner city projects like LRT. Suddenly those farms out past Champlin aren’t quite as valuable as they once were as it’s a little harder to get a water and sewer hookup. That’s not to say that the Met isn’t still paying for those hookups–just not at the pace as it once was.

      And some money isn’t good enough for the developers and the legislators in their districts. They want ALL the money. A dime spent on LRT is a dime that can’t be spent on a new sewer line. That’s why you’re seeing all the seemingly illogical fight against LRT, the effort to change the Met’s board structure, and derail efforts to abolish the Counties Transit Improvement Board. The GOP fights for the first two and against the third in an effort to get less money for LRT and more money for development. Doing anything to better the community as a whole doesn’t fit into the equation.

      It’s a classic case of “follow the money.” If being a proponent of local control helps further the Republican’s narrative, they’ll keep harping on that until the very moment it no longer suits their purposes. Then they’ll move on to some other argument in the hope that a little mud can stick to the wall and they can get their way.

  12. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 03/23/2017 - 10:30 am.

    OK but isn’t up to Dayton?

    Isn’t it up to Dayton to veto these bills, or any bills that contain these initiatives?

  13. Submitted by Dennis Wagner on 03/25/2017 - 09:51 am.


    Couple good points were made, here are a few more:Why did we build a new football, baseball, hockey, college football and on the way soccer stadium etc. Competition, if we don’t, on a global as well as USA competitive platform we fall behind. Transportation infrastructure is similar. We must be competitive on a global and USA infrastructure scale. If not there are economic consequences. Even the right wing nuts supposedly free market enthusiasts should understand that, It appears apparently we are mistaken. These are all investments, and as any invester knows, some pan out and some don’t but, if you don’t invest your overall ROI will not be very good.

    On the political side seems again and again we seem to have to go back to the Preamble. One would think every day our legislatures would read that paragraph to refresh themselves on the American objective enshrined in the constitution.

    “We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

    So the legislatures should be making good judgement calls for the ROI and good for the common welfare, not just good or bad for me and my buddies.

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