Light-rail project to begin construction spring 2001

Travis Reed

With a stroke of Gov. Jesse Ventura’s pen, the multibillion-dollar Minnesota Light-Rail Transit project is back on track.
Despite a recent cost-benefit analysis by the state Department of Transportation indicating the light-rail program is not cost-effective, the program is moving forward into stages of federal-funding negotiations.
The analysis concluded that LRT had a benefit-to-cost ratio of one-half. A healthy ratio is more than one. Cost-effective ratios are determined by dividing the estimated tangible benefits — like reduced environmental emissions — by the estimated costs.
The report was mandated by state legislation, designed to maintain accountability for state-funded projects more than $5 million. Rep. Phil Krinkie, R-Shoreview, a staunch opponent of the light-rail plan, spearheaded the bill.
The law prohibits funding if the project fails to meet the standards of the cost-benefit analysis. The governor, however, can still approve the project.
Ventura, who touts light rail as part of a “smart-growth” initiative for the metro area, approved the project Friday without the favorable analysis.
LRT proponents claim the analysis was a partisan move designed to derail the transportation project.
State transportation officials blasted the analysis, maintaining the benefits of light rail are hard to measure.
“We need to get past the old arguments about us vs. them and get on with the business of making sure the Twin Cities is competitive in the new economy,” said Metropolitan Council Chairman Ted Mondale, who is championing the project. “Providing alternatives to the automobile is the responsible thing to do.”
The program is in preliminary-engineering stages. Transportation officials are looking at several companies to sign car-building contracts at a $3 million target price per car.
Local funding has been secured, and department officials will solicit federal funds this winter and spring.
Officials expect the project to cost an estimated $548 million in 2002.
“A critical part of the project is getting funding,” said Robert Winter, assistant division engineer for the state transportation department. “Having the local money in place really helps when you go to get the federal funding.”
Winter said he expects the department will get federal grants for the project next summer.
Construction is slated to begin in spring 2001; the project is expected to be in partial operation by fall 2003.

Travis Reed covers environment and transportation issues and welcomes comments at [email protected]