The Southwest Light Rail Transit plan is the latest power grab by the big government planners at the Metropolitan Council. Accountable to no-one but the Governor, the Metropolitan Council is intent on re-imagining our lives through centralized planning. The central feature of this centralized planning is ever increasing levels of light rail transit. While some refer to the “dream” of light rail, the reality is more like a nightmare.
The so-called “Green Line Extension,” otherwise known as the Southwest Light Rail Transit (SWLRT), appeared to be in jeopardy when the Minnesota legislature did not approve $144.5 million in state funding for it. However, in a calculated political move, Gov Dayton bypassed the legislature. He got three metropolitan boards to come up with the funding instead.
Although metro transit is awash with federal, state and local tax dollars, even this massive slush fund is not enough to pay for this debacle. The proposed line will top out at a staggering $1.9 billion. This amounts to more than $124 million per mile of track, all for a relative few that will ever utilize this expensive government toy. By contrast, the roads that are used by all Minnesotans every day average between $2 and $4 million per mile, or less than 2% of the cost of the “efficient” light rail.
This massive public work spending is just the beginning, however. Trains lines are not only incredibly expensive to build, they are incredibly expensive to maintain as well. Many think that riders cover the operating costs of the light rail, but current proposals call for Minnesota tax payers to subsidize SWLRT to the tune of $30 million per year, in perpetuity. In other words, fully 70% of the annual costs of the SWLRT will not be paid by the beneficiaries of the trains, but by Minnesota taxpayers.
Many people believe that light rail will help to alleviate congestion on Minnesota roads, a polite fallacy that the Council touts at every opportunity, relying on outrageously unrealistic ridership numbers. The problem is that it has been proven to be blatantly false in study after study based on actual ridership numbers. The historical annual ridership numbers in the metro area paint a dark picture for the future of this massive investment. Less than 20% of all transit rides in the Twin Cities are on trains despite huge taxpayer subsidies designed to keep the costs to riders artificially low. This means that adding SWLRT will have a minimal impact on congestion in the Twin Cities. Most credible figures based on national studies show that a rail line can be expected to relieve just 2-3% of congestion.
That’s right. After spending literally billions and billions of dollars to herd us onto trains, the taxpayer will not even enjoy the benefit of a quicker commute. Hennepin County Commissioner Jeff Johnson has created a powerful video summary of the issues that is well worth viewing. CLICK HERE to access the video.
Behind their decision to not fund SWLRT, a large majority of our elected legislators asked very important and relevant questions about the cost, efficacy and viability of the plan to add another rail line to Eden Prairie. In a pique over the legislature’s refusal to continue to throw additional money into this boondoggle, Governor Dayton convened a public meeting on August 25 to scold our elected officials for their lack of vision.
Faced with a legislature that insists on some modicum of fiscal restraint, Governor Dayton offered two alternatives for the SWLRT funding. Option one required that Dayton use his personal regional slush fund (largely from the unelected, unaccountable Met Council) to fill the funding gap through issuance of $103.5 million in “Certificates of Participation” plus another $20.5 million from Hennepin County and $20.5 million from the Counties Transit Improvement Board. Meeting these new unfunded commitments could involve increasing debt, increasing county property taxes, and shifting funding from investments in the cost-efficient Bus Rapid Transit.
Option two would be to simply shut down the project, an option so distasteful to Dayton that he could barely utter the words. No extra credit for guessing which option the Governor ultimately selected, particularly since his co-presenter at the press conference was with the Metropolitan Council.
The Met Council, of course, is fully on board. After all, in 2014, the Council adopted an audacious power grab called “Thrive MSP 2040.” This plan is designed to dramatically reshape how every person in the metro area lives and gets around. The Thrive plan accomplishes this through a host of new ideologically-motivated criteria for municipal control; focusing in large part on light rail programs like the SWLRT. The core plan under the Thrive plan is to promote high-density housing, herding Minnesotans into what the Council refers to as “transit-oriented development” (TOD). TOD seeks to move everyone into dense urban cores, clustered around public transit. The Council loves the SWLRT because it is a step further toward the central planning goals of Thrive MSP 2040.
You may ask what is the purpose of all of this? According to the Council, their ultimate goal is to “improve residents’ ability to live without a personal vehicle.” The Council will achieve this goal by forcing “development patterns that support high transit demand.” In other words, the Council has set about to intentionally create gridlock on the roads so that we will clamor for light rail. Perhaps we should be grateful that the Council is so consistent.
The massively expensive SWLRT is yet another step in the social engineers’ goal of achieving urban utopia by ensuring that we all happily live in tightly packed “sustainable urban development cores” where we will gladly rely on fixed rail transit. If you look at the plans for SWLRT, the Met Council has created vast swaths of these TOD areas, areas where the Met Council will allow only super dense housing developments. Sadly, the city councils of Bloomington and Edina are fully on board with this plan. Indeed, Edina councilmember Mary Brindle acknowledged the costs almost in passing, but then stated that she is positively giddy about the “dream” of light rail.
Unless you dream of the day when urban densities encroach on our suburban neighborhoods, the SWLRT is more of a nightmare