Merits of new transit system are debated

by Heather Fors

If the money is available, the Twin Cities might be just a few years away from a new mass transit system that would better connect the suburbs to the cities.
And supporters of a light rail transit system say it will cut down parking and traffic congestion at the University and the greater metro area in general.
It might be more expensive now, but in the long run it’s going to be more effective and better for the environment, said Nicole Unterleider, a College of Liberal Arts sophomore. Unterleider rode the light rail in California when she lived there.
“It just seems more effective to me than a bunch of buses,” Unterleider said. “When I think of more buses, I think of more pollution.”
The federal Legislature is reviewing the $106 million light rail transit proposal submitted by Hennepin County Commissioner Peter McLaughlin. Several other states have received national funding for light rail projects.
A light rail would also serve University commuters by extending the current campus connector routes to downtown Minneapolis.
However, some people are wary of a proposal that would require such large funding from so many parties.
Opponents such as Lyle Wray, executive director of the Citizen’s League, say several factors need to be considered when reviewing the current transportation trends. They include the costs involved, the busy lifestyles of families and current trends of population spreading out from the Twin Cities, he said.
“It’s not that we’re against it; it’s just, are we getting the best bang for the buck?” Wray said.
Wray also said a priority when discussing effective transit is achieving the most convenient way of getting people to their jobs and other services.
Noah Mazur, a physiology junior who has lived in both Minneapolis and St. Paul, said he knows people in St. Paul who have never even been to Minneapolis. “It’d definitely open up people’s eyes,” he said.
Supporters also say allowing people access to places they normally wouldn’t go and showing tourists parts of the Twin Cities they usually wouldn’t see would strengthen business economy in the metro area.
Yet others who ride the buses frequently and see problems that sometimes accompany public transportation, such as inefficiency, do not see the proposed light rail system as a real solution.
“You’re going to get the same problem no matter how you do it,” said Nicole Hostetler, a child psychology senior. She takes an hour and a half bus trip to the University every day from her home in South St. Paul. “Buses are scary. People on the buses are scary,” she said.
Some city officials say a mass transit overhaul in the Twin Cities is overdue. The issue of light rail transit has been on the table for more than 30 years, and its merits are still being debated.
“Enough is enough,” McLaughlin said. The Twin Cities is one of the largest metro areas in the country and it needs a higher quality of service to the University, downtown Minneapolis and St. Paul, the airport and the Mall of America, he said.
“It’s time to shake off the dead hand of the past and create the kind of life we want,” McLaughlin said. He said Minnesotans need to think in terms of where they want to be in the next 50 years as opposed to the next few years.