Commuter rail gets a jump-start

The Northstar commuter rail line offers benefits similar to the Hiawatha line.

The Hiawatha light rail line is beginning to look like a runaway hit. Ridership for July was double anticipated levels. Considering University classes have not started yet, the line’s popularity can only increase in the coming months. In light of Hiawatha’s success, we applaud Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s recent move to support a similar project in the Northstar commuter rail line.

The Northstar line is a proposed 40-mile rail line between Big Lake, Minn. and Minneapolis. A crucial step to connecting the northern suburbs to the Twin Cities’ urban centers, it offers many advantages similar to a light rail, such as safety, efficiency and being environmentally friendly.

Despite these benefits, the estimated $265 million cost has left some politicians crying foul. But do the math of building extra highway lanes and Northstar is a bargain.

For a seven-mile stretch on Interstate 494, it would cost nearly $140 million, about $19 million a mile. Compare that to the 40-mile Northstar line, which would only cost about $7 million a mile. When expansion is needed, it is much cheaper to add additional trains than buy land to widen roads.

The Northstar line is a necessary step in Minnesota’s growth and prosperity. The benefits vastly outweigh the initial development costs. Also, the line would help create a public transportation network to improve direct access and reduce congestion. The more spokes of mass transit, the better for the state.

Pawlenty’s recent approach to transportation, which has, in our opinion, been more enlightened, is a positive sign amid the gloomy partisanship that has overtaken Minnesota politics.

Transportation need not be a zero-sum game. A sensible approach, using both road and mass-transit development, is necessary to address Minnesota’s transportation issues. The Northstar commuter rail line is a cornerstone to sensible transportation policy.