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Shouldn’t Minnesotans invest our limited public dollars on efficient transportation options?

Courtesy of Metro Transit
Bus Rapid Transit is a highly effective option that has wide support, including from me.

Recently on these pages, a few of my colleagues penned a missive, “It’s time for holdouts in the Legislature to accept rail transit.” I take issue with their facts and version of reality and would like to clear up a few things for your readers — perhaps bringing some actual discussion to why so many legislators have serious concerns over the Southwest Light Rail project.

Sen. David Osmek

First, let’s establish some facts. While the Minnesota Legislature has provided limited funds for planning, the State of Minnesota has never held a single vote as to whether this is a good project to proceed with. Considering over $900 million of Minnesota tax dollars are going to be spent building this 12-mile extension to the Green Line, most citizens believe that the Legislature should have some say in the building of one of the most expensive public works projects in Minnesota’s history. The possible dissolving of the Counties Transit Improvement Board (CTIB) is further evidence of what is being done to avoid your elected Legislature at all costs.

Hardly ‘small circles’

Sen. Ron Latz and his co-authors portray the concerns as coming from “small circles at the Minnesota Legislature.” Recently, a letter was signed by 84 of the 201 (41.2 percent). This is hardly a “small circle,” and is clearly indicative of the major concerns that legislators have on this project.

They go on to tout the “excellent cost-benefit ratio” of the project. Because the project has never had a hearing (beyond a few minutes’ discussion at the end of an informational-only hearing), not a shred of this has actually been debated in St. Paul. The fact is that light rail transit provides less than a dollar in returned investment per dollar spent, versus the 2-4 dollars that MnDOT finds on road or bridges we build.

What my colleagues do not want to discuss is how expensive this inefficient mode of transportation is. When you include the amortized cost of construction, our current two open lines cost us $6.05 per ride in public subsidy. Riders pay less than a dollar per ride on top of that, although around 10 percent of riders routinely skip paying fares annually. The public subsidy for bus ridership, which moves 10 times more people, is less than half of that amount. And costs for the current lines are increasing at over triple the rate of CPI or inflation.

Seeking efficient options

So what is the solution? First, don’t you think that one of the largest public works projects, that will impact every Minnesotan’s wallet, should have some level of scrutiny from your Legislature? More important, should we not invest our limited public dollars on efficient options, not a boutique option that caters to a select few? Bus Rapid Transit is a highly effective option that has wide support, including from me.

Let’s invest in transit options that work for Minnesota, and not be forced into what others “think” we should have.

Sen. David Osmek, R-Mound, represents District 33 in the Minnesota Senate.


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Comments (23)

  1. Submitted by Sean Olsen on 03/29/2017 - 08:48 am.

    GOP watusi

    I’d be more inclined to think “Big D”‘s support for BRT was legitimate if he backed spending more money for it when LRT wasn’t involved in the conversation. It’s the same ol’ dance the GOP does on lots of issues.

    Bring up LRT, the GOP says “let’s build BRT instead!”.

    Bring up BRT, the GOP says “roads and bridges!”.

    • Submitted by Matthew Steele on 03/29/2017 - 10:19 am.


      If Osmek actually supported BRT over LRT, he would have signed on to author SF 3585 last year to fund the Orange Line BRT.

    • Submitted by Bill Willy on 03/29/2017 - 05:34 pm.

      What time does the Mound bus leave?

      If the Senator and other Republicans are so enthused about more buses and less light rail, a person would think they’d take one to work and stop adding their cars to the congestion.

      But then again, I have no way of knowing how Dave Osmek gets to and from the capitol. For all I know, he could be taking the bus every day (and I’m wrong to imply he doesn’t).

      And while it’s probably not right to pick on any Republicans in particular (a lot of Democrats probably don’t take the bus either) I can’t help but think and wonder about Kurt Daudt and Pat Garofalo because, last I heard, Kurt really likes (or liked?) his Lexus and, of course, it will probably be a long time before Pat decides to park his Tesla and hop on a bus (assuming he still owns and drives that thing).

  2. Submitted by John N. Finn on 03/29/2017 - 09:32 am.

    Trying again….

    Last year’s bill to prohibit law enforcement agencies from “profiling” the Harley bikers and establishing related training programs must not have passed since Senator Osmek is authoring it again.

  3. Submitted by Matthew Steele on 03/29/2017 - 09:38 am.


    Where was this scrutiny when the Vikings stadium bill, including local sales taxes that overrode the City Charter of the sole city in Minnesota who would be on the hook for over $675 million in taxes and finance costs, was pushed through the legislature by two rural legislators?

    Where was this scrutiny when the legislature authorized the new $230 million bridge over a likely-to-close-anyways iron ore pit between Eveleth and Virginia? This new Hwy 53 bridge was needed only to preserve “access and visibility” to a small strip of businesses on the south end of Virginia, but relocating Hwy 53 to the west of the mines via upgrading existing state/county public rights of way would have cost less than half.

    Where was this scrutiny when legislators decided to fund the most expensive highway project in state history, the Stillwater Bridge to Nowhere? This bridge, corporate welfare to land speculators in Western Wisconsin, will serve under 10,000 vehicles per day. If a toll was required to cover the construction and maintenance of this bridge, it would be approximately $10 each way.

    Those are projects where the legislature has wasted money on corporate welfare and needless infrastructure through some combination of state funds or imposing local taxes against the will of the residents of those localities.

    But instead, a legislator has faux concerns about a project that doesn’t touch his district, when the state isn’t even on the hook to construct the line. He goes against the will of the voters of Minnesota, who passed an amendment to the Constitution of our state that dedicates 40% of MVST revenues to alternative modes of transportation. And finally, he claims to be from the party of local control but instead pushes for the state restricting Hennepin County friom spending its own money on its own local priorities.

  4. Submitted by Nathaniel Finch on 03/29/2017 - 09:50 am.

    Buggy Whips

    I’m surprised the Republicans in the legislature aren’t supporting subsidies for buggy whip factories. Forward-thinking they are not. If we’re going to add amortized construction costs to the cost of a ride on light rail, let’s add amortized construction costs (and subsidies to oil companies, and on an on) to the cost of each ride in a vehicle when we make a comparison. They always forget to do that. This is just another way for Republicans to maintain the rural/urban friction that has been so successful in electing Republicans outstate. They need to make sure the rural voters keep their noses out of joint because they think someone is getting something they don’t deserve. These tactics might serve Republicans’ political agenda (power), but it certainly doesn’t serve the best interests of the state.

    • Submitted by Brian Hanson on 04/05/2017 - 03:36 pm.

      forward thinking would be roads and bridges, because self-driving electric car sharing has a better chance of being the clean transportation of the future than light rail when it comes to short trips (less than 50 miles).

  5. Submitted by John Smith on 03/29/2017 - 11:11 am.

    It’s hard to believe this project is still under debate by the Republicans. They should have spoken up in 2009 when planning started instead of just trying to be roadblocks at every turn. Hennepin County was not going to wait around and hear the same old tired arguments against rail that have time and time been proven untrue. I think it just kills the GOP that the county could actually work around them for funding. So much for local government, I guess that only applies when they do what Republicans want and not follow the will of the people.

    Light rail is a reliable cost effective form of transportation that the metro greatly needs now, and will be a huge asset in the future. This project will contribute to Minnesota being a competitive and attractive place to live by reducing congestion, increasing density, and increasing mobility of people.

  6. Submitted by William Anderson on 03/29/2017 - 01:36 pm.

    The DFL “Local Conrol” Argument is False

    DFL SWLRT proponents apparently have not been following or perhaps do not grasp their own political tactics.

    The SWLRT process has been the very opposite of local control.

    Hennepin County and the Met Council have repeatedly resorted to the superior power of the Governor’s office to override opposition from the City of Minneapolis and its Park Board.

    Hennepin County was incompetent both in terms of basic engineering and simple political reality when it promised to reroute the freight train to St. Louis Park in exchange for Minneapolis agreeing to SWLRT in Kenilworth Corridor – not the City’s desired route. Hennepin County’s incompetence would be called malpractice in any other professional setting. No matter, like Trump, there will never be acknowledgement of error. There will be blaming and ad hominem.

    The only way to resolve the conflict and opposition to Hennepin County’s planning failure and the Met Council’s endorsement of it was with the decisive assistance of the Governor’s state level political force. The Governor also summarily shut down the local Minneapolis Park Board’s duty and legal right under federal law to protect local urban Park assets.

    • Submitted by Jim Boulay on 03/30/2017 - 05:47 am.

      Local control

      EVERY city on the swlr line signed off on the plan! Yes there was strong opposition but they didn’t carry the day and the public officials voted and literally signed the agreement. The park board is a separate entity. The main public park asset they are fighting for is a man-made channel to link the lakes which is normally an environmental disaster that ruins the local ecosystem. Brownie lake was a spring-fed clean, clear lake that was ruin by connecting it to lake of the isles! Lake of the isles has had significant re-engineering over the years and included dredging wetlands to create more of a “lake” than a swamp. Recently, the lake has been re-engineered AGAIN to recreate the original lowlying wetlands that mother nature kept dumping rainwater into! Why isn’t this channel filled in?

      • Submitted by William Anderson on 03/30/2017 - 12:54 pm.

        Regardless of personal opinions about local Park Board decisions or their park assets, the fact that the Governor interceded to prevent the Minneapolis Park Board from using the authority provided to them by federal law specifically designed to enable urban parks to protect their assets from encroachment by transportation projects means that state overrode local control.

        The DFL has sided with the Chamber of Commerce, corporations, and developers against an urban Park Board.

        Repeating, as the Met Council, Hennepin County and SWLRT proponents often do, that every city signed off on SWLRT erases the history and methods by which they made that happen.

        Most of the Mpls mayoral candidates, including Betsy Hodges, ran against co-location in 2013. Mayor Hodges voted against the co-location plan calling it a “fundamental failure of fairness,” and soon after acquiesced in a closed-door meeting with Met Council Chair Duininck backed by the Governor. With zero transparency here, it is widely understood that funding for other projects in Minneapolis was threatened.

        This relentless forcing process, led and approved by the Governor, is called “local control.”

      • Submitted by Larry Moran on 04/03/2017 - 09:34 am.

        Local Control.

        While Mr. Boulay may be a strong advocate for the SWLRT he is incorrect about Brownie Lake and the cause of its problems. Brownie Lake is polluted from the runoff from 394, not from Lake of the Isles. Work around that lake recently was intended to try and divert that salt laden runoff away from Brownie. If LOI was the major culprit in damaging that lake I suspect Cedar Lake would have been damaged prior to Brownie Lake. In addition, water flows from Brownie toward LOI, through Calhoun and Harriet, and finally to Minnehaha Creek. That’s why it’s called the Minnehaha Creek Watershed District and not the Brownie Lake Watershed District. The recent re-engineering around LOI was undertaken for the same reason changes were made around Lake Calhoun and Cedar Lake: runoff from surrounding property needs to be filtered before it enters the lakes. Complaining about and disparaging LOI and the channel seems to be yet another way to justify a poorly planned route for a commuter line to the SW suburbs.

  7. Submitted by Nick Foreman on 03/29/2017 - 04:51 pm.

    Does Osmek take the bus to the Capitol?

    Doubtful that he knows anything about how effective buses are!!

  8. Submitted by Bill Willy on 03/29/2017 - 05:05 pm.

    “Hardly a small circle”

    “Recently, a letter was signed by 84 of the 201 [legislators] (41.2 percent). This is hardly a ‘small circle,’ and is clearly indicative of the major concerns that legislators have on this project.”

    How many DFL legislators signed it, and (because he didn’t say) which letter was that? . . Was it this one, by chance?

    “Minn. Republicans want feds to deny $900M in Southwest rail funds”

    That’s the letter in which 84 MN Republicans begged the new administration to NOT send Minnesotans $900 million worth of the hundreds of billions they’ve contributed to the US Treasury (and NEVER gotten back much more than half because states like Mississippi, West Virginia, South Carolina, Alabama, etc., need those dollars more because they believe in ultra-low state taxes because ultra low state taxes is the shortest route to widespread poverty and bigger federal subsidies).

    Meanwhile, in addition to doing all he can to make sure Minnesotans do NOT receive that $900 million (that COULD be added to those “limited public dollars”) . . .

    — Senator Osmek is advocating a $900 million tax cut

    — Senator Osmek voted to give $325 million of taxpayer money to the MN insurance industry in January; and voted to give them $600 million more over the next two years in “reinsurance” guarantees (so the insurance industry will not be hurt for failing to deliver on its promises).

    Just those three things — 900 + 900 + 925 — add up to . . .


    . . . “limited public dollars” that he and his Republican colleagues are working hard as they can to:

    — NOT collect from the federal government;

    — Give to the MN insurance industry; and

    — Use for the same kind of tax cuts that sent Minnesota into 10 solid years of budget deficits; LGA cuts (for outstate communities); year-on-year property tax increases (that impacted ALL Minnesotans); deep cuts to (MN kid’s) education funding AND borrowing from schools; 7% unemployment; and, in 2010, the year Mark Dayton was elected (to straighten out that mess), a median income of $54,405 which was $10,000 LESS than it is today, just seven years later.

    Apparently, Senator Osmek thinks dedicating $2.75 billion to THOSE kind of things over the next two years is a wiser, more efficient use of “limited public dollars” than committing ANY of them to what the overwhelming majority of metro area Minnesotans have said — time and time again — they want, need and are willing to pay for to a great extent.

    Metro area Minnesotans who, by the way, pay a substantially larger percent of state taxes than oustate Minnesotans (like me) and, coincidentally, receive substantially less in state-funded benefits than outstaters.

    Maybe Senator Osmek could explain his “fiscal management of limited public dollars” thinking on those things in his next Community Voices piece.

  9. Submitted by John DeWitt on 03/29/2017 - 10:38 pm.

    Good Lord!

    In the early 1970s, the Metropolitan Transit Commission, Metro Transit’s predecessor, had a nationwide reputation for progressive transit planning and research. Unfortunately, that was done in by the Citizens League’s requisite catechism that light rail was a festering boondoggle and better bus service was all we needed. That set us back about a quarter of a century. Disappointing that the same old argument is still around.

  10. Submitted by Chad Quigley on 03/30/2017 - 12:07 pm.

    Kill all LRT

    Progressives fancy themselves forward thinking people yet they continually want to build antiquated and outdated modes of public transportation. Trains, whether they are light or heavy rail, are not efficient modes of moving large amounts of people around because they are restricted to a track. And if it were not for the pro sports teams in MPLS and the trains run empty except on game days. Buses are much better at moving people and they can navigate unforeseen problems (accidents) as they are not restricted to a track. They are also not the visual blight the tracks and poles of LRT are.
    We should not be spending years of road and bridge building money to satisfy the fancy of a few metro elitists. Roads are more benificial to the majority, you know the cry progressives keep saying after the election.

  11. Submitted by Bob Petersen on 03/30/2017 - 12:40 pm.

    Didn’t there used to be rails in the streets?

    Oh, yeah. Those went away. Now, it’s just a novelty because they have almost zero mobility.

    If anyone thinks plunking down $2 billion just to start then the millions of subsidies year after year, is a great idea is nuts. If the cities along the line want it, then they can pay for it. All of us are already ponying up for the other two lines – $6 per rider!! – plus thos of us in Anoka County pay for the near empty Northstar.

    Most of the comments here seem like they want the line just because the Republicans are against it and it doesn’t matter what the cost is.

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