Scoring Southwest LRT
Transit advocates were stunned when DEED rankings were announced for projects seeking $47.5 million in state bonding money. DEED staff had a lot of projects to score. Their criteria were project readiness, job creation, investment & leverage, regional impact, and other public benefits.
We feel the SWLRT project deserved bonding support from the full legislature last session—and deserved a higher score from DEED. The future of one of the state’s major employment areas and the residents who live and work there should be a top priority. Governor Dayton has been vocal in support of SWLRT. But, he can’t do it alone. It’s up to citizens and the business community to hold elected leaders accountable.
Here is how we would score this project.
SWLRT is in preliminary engineering, with construction scheduled to start in 2014—if the funding package comes together. $94 million is needed for preliminary engineering, of which $47 million is committed. If this project stalls because of the lack of state support, each year of delay adds $40 million to the total project budget. DEED gave SWLRT 7 of possible 25 points for readiness.
Creating 150 engineering, outreach, and management jobs right away, 3500 construction jobs when hard construction beings in 2014, and 175 LRT operations jobs, the SWLRT will have a similar workforce to the Central Corridor Light Rail project (CCLRT). The $252 million CCLRT payroll benefits communities statewide. DEED gave SWLRT only 5 out of 25 points.
INVESTMENT & LEVERAGE
The state’s contribution to SWLRT (10% of total project costs) will leverage $1.125 billion in other funds (local and federal). This is a 9 to 1 return on investment. DEED gave this project 5 out of 25 possible points.
Currently, the southwest light rail corridor is a major job center, with more than 200,000 jobs located there. With light rail investments, that number is expected to grow to 270,000 jobs. The Chambers of Commerce and employers in the corridor support light rail investments as the best way to deal with current and future transportation needs. DEED gave SWLRT a score of 5 out of 20 possible points.
OTHER PUBLIC BENEFITS
It’s not clear what “other benefits” might have been part of DEED’s scoring, which gave SWLRT 2 out of a possible 5 points. Here are other benefits of transit investments for individuals and the region:
- Economic development. Corporate site selectors rate a region’s transit system as one of the key elements in deciding where to locate. Cities such as Dallas, Denver, Sacramento, Salt Lake, and San Francisco are way ahead of the Twin Cities in transit investments. Without state support for SWLRT, our region and state will fall farther behind. This is not good for current residents or future generations.
- Family cost of transportation. Transportation is the second largest household expense—greater than education or health care—and it costs more in lower income families. And the ways that people get around are changing: for the last six years, despite population growth, Minnesotans are driving less. At the same time, demand for transit is at record levels and rates of bicycling and walking also are rising dramatically. Bringing more of the metro region in convenient range of transit means families can save money. The SWLRT line will connect right to the new Central Corridor line, meaning that residents across the metro could take a train to work or school (from Saint Paul to Eden Prairie with all stops in between). But, not if it’s not built.
- Air pollution. Automotive tail pipe emissions play a big role in creating ozone and adding to fine particulate pollution. The Twin Cities is at risk of falling out of compliance with EPA air quality standards. If this happens, the economic cost to the region will be huge. Ask someone living in Los Angeles, which has been out of attainment for decades. Did you know that the Twin Cities metro has more highway lane miles per capita than Los Angeles? And did you know that LA and the southern California community has recently responded with an incredibly forward-looking plan for transit, bicycling, and walking?
- Gas prices. They are still high, adding to the overall cost of transportation. If more Minnesotans had transit options, such as SWLRT, they could possibly get by with one fewer car or without a car—saving up to $8,000 per year (the average annual cost of owning and operating a car, according to AAA).
- More fun. A light rail connection from the downtowns to the southwest corridor would make it easier for everyone to access entertainment, restaurants, and sports events. SWLRT trains would run every 15 minutes (faster in rush hour) for most of every day. As we heard at a community meeting in Hopkins in July, it would be great for those who want to socialize after work without worrying about the drive home.
SWLRT is a very important strategic investment for Minnesota. Polls taken last fall show that Minnesotans agree. We need SWLRT now!