Twin Cities’ growth threatened by House

Of the 15 largest metro areas in the United States, only Houston and the Twin Cities lack some form of rail-based public transportation. While Houston is considering developing a light rail system, the Minnesota House prevents implementation here. The House’s opposition is shortsighted and contrary to maintaining growth.
In the 1930s, Minnesota was covered with trolley lines. They went as far north as Stillwater, allowing residents to travel easily throughout the region. Back then, public transportation was a major force behind the growth of the area. Seventy years later, Minneapolis is still growing, but our transportation system is stagnating. Our highways are becoming increasingly more crowded while suburbs spring up farther and farther away.
In an attempt to solve our growing traffic problems, the Minnesota Senate, with the support of Gov. Jesse Ventura, has proposed a light rail line that will initially run from downtown Minneapolis to the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport and the Mall of America. If construction was started now, the project would be completed by 2003. Despite support from most Minnesotans, the House stands in the way of funding for the project.
The concerns of representatives center on the costs of maintaining a light rail line. However, the numbers do not bear out their worries. The cost to the state after initial construction would be about $6 million a year. That amount is less than 1 percent of the state’s yearly budget. Comparing this amount to the estimated $750 million Minnesota will spend each year to maintain our highway system, light rail is a bargain.
The advantages of light rail far outweigh the minimal costs of maintenance. Light rail will allow workers who cannot afford cars to take jobs farther away from their homes. It will improve air quality by taking cars off the streets. It will allow those who still drive to get to work faster, by decreasing traffic congestion. It will allow riders who work in downtown to save money on parking costs.
Beyond those benefits, light rail will help our area continue to grow. Once light rail is established, additional lines will allow the creation of suburbs where there currently are none and still allow open spaces and farmland. While the highway paradigm is based on major road systems chopping up open land, light rail will allow cities to concentrate housing near stations and minimize road needs elsewhere. Portland, Ore., for example, has had great success with this approach to suburban growth.
Minneapolis-St. Paul’s population has grown 29 percent since 1980. Our highway system simply cannot keep up with that growth. Light rail is a comparatively cheap solution that not only benefits current residents, but also provides a foundation for controlled growth in years to come. The House should reconsider their objections to light rail. The tiny cost to Minnesota will be made up quickly in a better quality of living and a renewed ability to grow.