This news really stings. It’s hard to accept that this light rail plan should be tossed into history’s dustbin with the many unrealized rail plans that came before. It’s difficult to change course after $59M of sunk costs.
Yet, I think we have to treat this news as an opportunity. Before the news of the cost increases Southwest seemed destined to limp along for years yet. Neither completely certain or completely dead the lawsuits and studies will keep the line in limbo. This news, if acted decisively upon, gives political cover to shift to higher transit priorities. It makes me think back to the Wagenius quote that explains why we continue with this logic-defying project.
“There are folks who are extraordinarily invested in validating the process that has brought us to this point”
These cost increases give those people invested in the process cover to do what they should have done a while back – reassess – and come up with a better plan and a better goal.
And I realize I’m not breaking any news here, but this line is so deeply flawed. It’s neither the best use of transit dollars nor the best way to serve this corridor.
Do we really want to spent all this transit money building bridges over or tunnels under 212, 494, 169, 100, and 394? Do we really want to build a 3,500 ft long viaduct through wetlands in Eden Prairie? Are we really going to tunnel under a low-density railroad corridor to appease rich political donors? I can understand defending this line if you’ve invested in land near Royalston, but for the rest of us, this line passed into ridiculousness a while ago – this latest news just gives cover to finally recognize the obvious.
Southwest light rail really has an identity crisis. The technology suggested it’s a Metro Line, but it’s alignment prevented it from hitting those urban nodes that would make it effective.
The alignment suggests it’d mostly be used as a commuter line. But with so many stations and grade crossings, is it going to be even one minute faster that a non-stop Southwest transit coach bus?
So, how do we do better? What’s a more effective use of transit dollars? That’s something to be fleshed out, but here are some starting thoughts.
For much less money, we could serve the commuters with circulator shuttles, park-and-rides, coach buses and MNPass lanes. We already have our grade separated corridors. They are called freeways and we just need to convert a lane on each one to MNPass to get more efficient use out of them.
The Metro aspect of Southwest could be better served by building out the aBRT network. We could build every one of those lines with just a small portion of Southwest’s budget. Let’s build three or four of those lines a year. Let’s also add shelters and amenities to regular bus stops. That will do way more to improve transit for way more people than Southwest ever could.
And finally we need to go back to expanding the rail network. But if we’re going to build rail, we have to get our money’s worth. To get our money’s worth were going to have to tunnel. Let’s figure out how much it cost to build a Hennepin subway from Lake Street to Downtown to University Ave to Stadium Village. Let’s build rail in the gift-wrapped Midtown Greenway corridor. Let’s spend money on rail if it’s going to improve mobility and accessibility. A subway is definitely a reach; we don’t have the mechanisms in place to fund it. We haven’t built the political coalition to advocate for it. Let’s start now.
This three prong strategy -- commuter buses, Arterial BRT, and truly urban rail down the line -- provides benefits to the suburbs and the city. It allows us to start immediately and plan for big improvements in the future.
Southwest rail is either going to limp along for a while yet or die without anything to replace it. As transit advocates, let’s push a plan to give pro-transit politicians cover to abandon this absurd project and pivot to something that will improve mobility for many more.