Local candidates differ on transportation options

Sarah McKenzie

Candidates vying for the state Legislature this year differ substantially on local transportation issues, including light-rail transit and other publicly financed infrastructure projects.
The LRT line is among the most contentious.
The Hiawatha Avenue Corridor, which will link downtown Minneapolis to the Mall of America, is expected to be completed by fall 2003. Funded by the federal government, state and local agencies, the 11-mile LRT line is expected to have 19,300 passengers per day, according to the Metropolitan Council.
Designers have planned 16 stops for the line with one along Cedar-Riverside near high-rise apartments on the edge of the University’s West Bank.
Supporters argue the new line will ease traffic congestion in a metro area with increasingly clogged roadways. Opponents, however, say they favor improving the bus system and criticize the project for being too costly.
All told, the project is expected to reach $548 million, according to estimates by Gov. Jesse Ventura’s administration. But recent funding promised by the Metropolitan Airports Commission for a tunnel to carry the line under the airport is expected to push the total tab higher.
Ben Bowman, a 22-year-old Carlson School of Management student majoring in entrepreneurial studies, is running on the Republican ticket for the state House of Representatives against incumbent DFLer Phyllis Kahn.
Bowman said he considers the LRT line a “noble idea,” but would put greater emphasis on improving metro-area if elected the East Bank area representative.
“I don’t know much about light rail. Obviously, if they are going to do it, it should go past Coffman Union,” Bowman said. “I’d much rather just get on the bus. It’s a smaller learning curve.”
The University senior said he would also push to improve parking conditions for students on campus by asking the State Fair board to free up additional St. Paul campus parking lots for commuters at cheaper fees.
Kahn, who has served as the East Bank representative since 1972, said she is unwavering in her support for the Twin Cities LRT line.
“It’s not going to solve all the problems by itself, but it’s totally necessary,” said Kahn, 63, who is an ardent environmentalist with a doctoral degree in biophysics from Yale University. She also holds degrees from Cornell and Harvard universities.
Besides the LRT line, Kahn is behind proposals to build a commuter rail line using existing train tracks from St. Cloud to the Twin Cities. She also favors relieving pressure from the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport by increasing service at the Rochester and St. Cloud airports.
Opponents of state-financed measures to offer alternatives to cars and busses argue that they only benefit a few commuters.
Kelly Bailey, a 33-year-old Republican running for the West Bank state Senate seat, said the only way to ensure the projects are really worthy of state funds is to build large-scale systems to attract a larger number of riders.
“Right now is a bad time for light rail,” Bailey said. He served as chairman of the board of trustees for a local union for airport shuttle workers.
The Republican candidate, who worked as a Middlebrook Hall residential assistant when he attended the University, said the state should work to improve traffic technology so busses could maneuver through congestion more quickly.
He said traffic lights should be implemented with sensors that turn green when busses approach the intersection.
Some candidates favor improving bicycle routes for commuters who opt out of driving and bussing.
Julie Sabo, a DFLer running against Bailey to represent the University’s West Bank, said she champions initiatives to improve inner-city bike corridors.
“We don’t want to just paint a white strip for bikers on the side of the road,” said Sabo, who is also the daughter of U.S. Rep. Martin Olav Sabo.
Julie Sabo spent two years in Copenhagen, Denmark — a city renown for its emphasis on building infrastructure for bikers and pedestrians, not drivers.
She said the Scandinavian city is a good model for the Twin Cities because Copenhagen has its fair share of poor winter weather as well.
Kahn also said the state needs to do more to make cities bicycle friendly.
The state lawmaker said she often uses her bicycle to commute to the University and St. Paul from her Nicollet Island home.
“I try to get to the Capitol by bike as much as possible,” Kahn said. “And when I can, I’m willing to get places by running.”

Sarah McKenzie welcomes comments at [email protected]