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Update – Transit Bonding this Session


from Dave Van Hattum, Senior Policy Advocate

This week, transit bonding bills began to be heard in Committee – in the Senate Capital Investment Committee on Monday and in the House Transportation Committee on Wednesday.  Governor Dayton’s bonding proposal includes $25 million to the Metropolitan Council to cover a portion of the preliminary engineering costs for the Southwest LRT. 

A strong lineup of testifiers (from local and county governments and the Met Council to  Minneapolis Regional Chamber of Commerce) stressed the economic returns from investing in the Southwest LRT, the financial commitment to the project by county government, and the rigorous process by which light rail transit was chosen for this corridor. A recent blog by Governor Dayton relays similar benefits and highlights the positive impact on jobs and the environment (see link).

As we build out a regional system of transitways, state general obligation bonding is expected to cover 10% of the total capital costs.  The other 90% will come from the federal government (50%) the Counties Transit Improvement Board (30%) and the counties (10%) through which the line travels.  Few, if any, other projects being considered for general obligation bonding will leverage nine additional dollars for every state dollar invested.

Bonding bills for several other transit projects, while not in the Governor’s bonding bill, are also being heard. These include:

  • Gateway (I-94 E) Corridor
  • The Minneapolis Interchange (a transit station at Twins Stadium, where multiple lines beyond the Hiawatha and Northstar will eventually converge).
  • Red Rock Transitway (freight rail improvements that will help move this project forward).
  • Lake Street and I-35W Transit Station (creation of a center median transit facility similar to that at 46th St. and I-35W).
  • Maple Grove Transit Station
  • Greater Minnesota transit facilities, in Mankato, Duluth and St. Cloud

Additional transit bonding bills have been submitted for Bottineau Corridor, Cedar Avenue BRT, and Robert St. Corridor. Hearings on these bills have not yet been scheduled by the House Transportation Committee

While TLC strongly supports bonding that helps advance the build out of a regional transit system, we recognize the particular urgency of the Southwest bonding request this legislative session. Quite simply, if bonding for Southwest LRT is not passed this session, it could seriously delay and/or jeopardize the prospect of receiving $625 million in federal matching funds.  The Twin Cities competes with metro regions across the country for these competitive FTA funds, and our peer regions would be more than happy to take our place in line for the limited federal funding.

Transit riders threatened with fare hike

from Bill Neuendorf, Director of Policy and Advocacy

Bills recently introduced in the MN House and Senate would raise fares on Twin Cities bus and train riders by at least 25 cents. After substantial cuts to state funding for transit in 2011, some legislators now hope to increase revenues by hiking the rates paid by most riders (seniors & disabled persons are spared).


These proposals are heading in the wrong direction. Fortunately the House Transportation Committee accepted an amendment late Wednesday evening to abandon the across-the-board fare increase. This is a wise decision and we are hopeful that the Senate will act in the same manner.

For most metro families, transportation expenses are the second highest monthly expense, after housing. For lower-income families, transportation expenses are even higher than housing expenses. Considering that 80% of transit riders are going to school or to work, raising the fares places more of a burden on transit users. Convenient transit service is only available to 25% of metro area households; fare hikes discourage people from choosing the transit option when it is available.

Despite the modest size of our transit system, in 2011, transit ridership continued to increase, up to 94 million rides in the metro-area, according to Met. Council. A recent poll by the local Chambers of Commerce indicates that 69% of metro-area residents would like to use transit if it would be available. Meanwhile, MnDOT reports INSERT LINK that Minnesotans are driving less – for six years in a row now!

With transit trending upwards and driving declining, raising fares would further hinder people from having convenient and affordable transit options.

To make a simple point: convenient and affordable transit options are an essential part of a vibrant metropolitan economy. Government investments in transit (bus and rail) provide a high return on investment, measured in both social and economic outcomes.

The Minnesota Legislative Auditor 2011 report found that our transit services are very efficient. . . According to the National Transit Database, Metro Transit has one of the highest fare box recovery rates in the United States, meaning that fares pay a bigger share of operating costs than in peer cities. Operators of the six suburban transit agencies run similarly tight ships.

Let the professionals at the transit agencies determine fare structures that optimize revenue and ridership. It is unnecessary for the state legislature to micro-manage transit fares in opposition to capable professionals who effectively run an award-winning network of buses and trains.


Streetcars and the funding picture


From Dave Van Hattum, Senior Policy Advocate

Streetcars could be returning to Minneapolis or Saint Paul in the not too distant future.  Both cities have studies underway to determine the feasibility of streetcars in several different corridors.  In Minneapolis, focus is on Nicollet Ave and Central Ave, with discussion as well about lines along the Midtown Greenway and in North Minneapolis, along Broadway. Specific corridors have not been identified in Saint Paul, but it is likely they would intersect with the Central Corridor LRT and/or be on corridors with very high bus ridership.  

Streetcars are similar to light rail transit vehicles – both are powered by overhead electric – but streetcars are considerably lighter and cheaper to build than light rail vehicles. Today’s new streetcar lines typically are 1 to 4 miles long, travel in the road with other vehicles, make more frequent stops (every few blocks) than LRT trains, but carry fewer people than light rail.

Streetcars are particularly attractive due to their ability to spur economic development.  The 3 mile Portland Streetcar, located in the downtown Pearl District, cost of $57 million to build and led to more than $3.5 billion in new development within two blocks in less than a decade after opening in 2001. Development within a block of the streetcar accounted for 55% of all central business district development since 1997. Combined with a major brownfield redevelopment, excellent pedestrian facilities, and decreased parking, Portland’s first line led to an average density of 131 housing units per acre.

220px-PortlandStreetcar5A car of the Portland Streetcar system at the eastbound Portland State University stop.

Interestingly, the FTA New Starts and Small Starts program (which provides matching funds for light rail and streetcars) has funded nine streetcars in the last five years. New Streetcar lines are under construction in Atlanta, Cincinnati, Milwaukee, New Orleans, Portland, Saint Louis, Salt Lake City, Seattle, and Tucson. Charlotte, Dallas and Tampa have recently received funding from the Federal Transit Administration to pursue streetcar lines.  

Recent proposed changes to the FTA New Starts/Small Starts program will increase the likelihood of federal funding for a local streetcar project.  The challenge for streetcar enthusiasts in the Twin Cities, however, is the lack of a local funding source.  Often new streetcar lines are funded with municipal funding sources like property taxes, parking taxes, or development fees.  Neither the ¼ cent regional sales tax for transitways (administered by CTIB) nor Metro Transit’s revenue sources (e.g. motor vehicle sales tax, general fund) are envisioned as likely funding source for streetcars.

The potential of streetcars to create neighborhoods where reduced (and no) car ownership is practical, and to complement a regional system of bus and rail, should engage the attention of local policymakers.  Streetcars, like the impressive potential of rapid bus, call out the need for expanded investment in public transit.  TLC will continue to advocate for increased transit funding for regional and local transit, including streetcars.

Minnesotans are driving less

From Dave Van Hattum, Senior Policy Advocate

Something fascinating is happening on our roads.  After decades and decades of steady increases, the total amount of car travel in Minnesota has not increased for six consecutive years (see MnDOT 2010 VMT Report- pdf).  Over that period, the state’s population increased by more than 300,000 people, but total driving did not increase.  Minnesotans are increasingly choosing a healthy combination of transit, biking, walking and fewer and, most likely, shorter car trips. 

No doubt the economic recession has dampened the amount of vehicle travel.  If people don’t have jobs to go to, or money to spend, they naturally travel less. But much of the decline in travel preceded the economic downtown and matches international trends

VMTpopulation2010A chart, with caption, from MnDOT's 2010 Vehicle Miles of Travel report.

Continue reading "Minnesotans are driving less" »

Los Angeles—Not Just for Drivers Anymore

From Barb Thoman, Executive Director

When you think about transportation in the Los Angeles region do you think about cars idling on ten lane highways? While millions still do drive every day, more and more of LA’s 12 million residents are choosing from a growing number of transit options. With an aggressive plan for expansion funded by several voter-approved tax increases, transit options in LA on are track to grow dramatically.  

Los Angeles County is the largest transit operator in the LA region and its transit agency is known as Metro. The CEO of Metro is Art Leahy, former general manager at our Metro Transit.  Metro carried a whopping 360 million riders in 2011, the major portion of the region’s transit ridership.  


I was particularly enamored by the Metro Rapid bus service.  Rapid buses operate on 24 different bus routes on many of the region’s busiest arterial streets. It’s a system that our own Metro Transit hopes to mimic on some of our region’s busy bus corridors. See link.

Continue reading "Los Angeles—Not Just for Drivers Anymore " »

Marrying Bus and Rail on the Central Corridor

From Dave Van Hattum, Senior Policy Advocate

A critical component of the success of the Central Corridor light rail line will be how the bus connects to it, specifically providing some level of continued bus service in the corridor and expanding north/south bus connections to the corridor.  Metro Transit recently began the Central Corridor Transit Service Study, with the goal of improved connections and reliability, and a simplified multi-modal system.  Open houses on the study will take place in March.

Metro Transit estimates that 40% of Central Corridor riders will access the train via a bus trip. At Transit for Livable Communities, we support much more extensive implementation of new connecting bus service than will be possible with available dollars.   

The sector study assumes that any funding of expanded north/south service will come from savings from reductions in current service, including elimination of route #50 (express service along University), and reductions in the frequency of route #16 (local service along University)and route #94 (express bus along I-94).


The #65 bus provides a north-south connecting service to the Central Corridor.

The Met Council’s Transportation Policy Plan calls for an expansion of our region’s transitways (LRT, commuter rail and bus rapid transit) and for an expansion of our region’s bus system.  Due to funding constraints, bus expansion has been on hold for nearly a decade.  Better bus connections to the Central Corridor light rail will further leverage this key public investment and expand benefits to residents along the corridor and in the sector area planning geography. 

Continue reading "Marrying Bus and Rail on the Central Corridor" »

Transit, Bicycling, and Walking in the News

 stories from last week that you might have missed

Feb26-March 2, 2012


Chicago: Minneapolis one of four pilot locations [aka, Bike Walk Twin Cities] with significant $$ for "bike and pedestrian networks--and it's working"

Letter of day about biking & walking numbers on the Sabo Bridge (2/29/12)

NJ cyclists want bikes allowed on NJ Transit (2/26/12)

Miami op-ed: time to make our streets safer for everyone (2/26/12)

Efforts in Sarasota, FL, New Jersey, Springfield, MO, and Loveland, CO to make bicycling and walking safer



Albany, NY: Want to lose weight? Move to a neighborhood with sidewalks. (2/25/12)

Tampa, FL teen: Drivers just don't seem to care about pedestrian safety (2/26/12)

Portland: how neighborhoods and individuals can join to make walking safer (2/28/12)
Pedestrian safety has historically been overlooked in favor of keeping traffic moving quickly

Newark works to accommodate parking, walking, and bicycling (2/29/12)



@seattlemag: What locals would do to fix Seattle's transporation problems (March 2012)

Saint Paul and North Minneapolis consider streetcars

Transpo costs a wild card in housing affordability, especially in outer suburbs

Transit riders in Pittsburgh and Detroit push back against proposed cuts
Pittsburgh: fare increases & 35% cut in service (2/29/12)
Detroit: routes already chopped in half, more service cuts coming (2/29/12)

Chicago transit advocates, reeling from fare hikes of up to 35%, propose regional increase in gas tax to stabilize transit funding (2/29/12)

NY's conservative GOP transit chief: transit people like what they see (2/27/12)

NY: Rockland County residents howl for transit on Tappan Zee Bridge (2/29/12)

SF: "We're rolling forward" on $1.6 billion, 1.7-mile subway that will connect the Caltrain station to Chinatown (2/26/12)

SF looks to upgrade transit signage (3/1/12)

Boston: No more "McMansions." Developers focus on transit-oriented-development (3/2/2012)

Alabama Transportation Infrastructure Bank bill now includes transit along with roads and bridges. AL House cte votes next

An update on the Atlanta transit campaign (2/26/12)

On OSU campus, transportation has 3rd largest carbon footprint, after electricity & heat/AC

Whopper alert: NC critic accuses transit of "strategic misrepresentation," citing study about cost overruns. But study mostly about highways, bridges, tunnels (2/28/12)

Good transit offers both quantity and quality-- a train or bus in site and a pleasure to ride. Appeals to our rational and non-rational sides.

Federally funded transportation research: what 9 univs will study (/27/2012)

Transit union pushes for over-time pay to address driver fatigue (2/26/12)

Nigerians want a"functional, affordable, comfortable, reliable and accessible mass transit system"



Crossing the bridge via the rear-view mirror


Over the opposition of Rep. Betty McCollum and Rep. Keith Ellison, the House voted on Thursday to provide an exemption to the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act for a massive new freeway-style bridge over the St. Croix River at Oak Park Heights. All the other members of Minnesota’s Congressional delegation voted for the exemption. 


Transit for Livable Communities joined with many organizations in opposition to this large, expensive bridge for the same reason we have opposed other highway expansion projects. We are not anti-road or anti-driving, but we are against a pattern of decision making that continues to say “Yes” to highway expansion, shortchanging road maintenance and the ability to offer a range of transportation options to Minnesotans.

The Twin Cities metro has more highway lane miles per capita than Los Angeles. We already have a lot of roads to keep in good repair and, statewide, we have a huge backlog of bridges that need attention.

MnDOT, the state transportation agency, has said that it is not possible to build our way out of congestion:  more or wider lanes will eventually become clogged. MnDOT says it’s time to prioritize –more “high value and low cost” projects—yet this freeway-style bridge is just the opposite. The estimated cost of the proposed bridge is three times the cost of the new I-35W bridge and is projected to accommodate only a small fraction of the traffic. Cheaper options for a new St Croix Bridge were repeatedly offered but rejected.

The massive bridge over the St Croix River was designed in a different era. It is based on projections of driving and growth that are no longer valid. Traffic volumes in Minnesota are not growing and rates of driving are flat. Many people today can’t afford to live so far from work or to drive everywhere. An aging population and young people with different priorities want more travel options.

Despite new visions for the future and new priorities, we keep building wider highways, more and larger interchanges, and bridges that are too big.  TLC believes that our transportation investments need to start matching our stated priorities. With declining tax revenue and increasing maintenance costs, it is time to stop looking in the rear-view mirror and get back on track toward a 21st century transportation network that prioritizes people rather than cars.


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