Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Met Council testifies before legislature on need for expanded transit system

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Light rail transit, not more buses, is the most cost effective option for supporting the existing jobs and the tens of thousands of jobs the Southwest corridor will add before 2030, Minnesota's Twin Cities Metropolitan Council Chair Susan Haigh told a State Senate panel.

At a hearing of the Senate Capital Investment committee, Haigh and other Met Council officials laid a clear case for adding a third light rail line to the region's transit system. They also addressed technical concerns from legislators about the process for building the route. Business leaders and transit advocates also spoke to the need for the Southwest Light Rail line at the hearing.

"We are one region, with one economy and one transit system," said Haigh. "Our job at the council is to support the growth of our regional economy and to do so, we need to address the transit demands in this high-growth area of the region. Light rail is just one part of our transit system, but in this case, it is the appropriate type of transportation to support the 210,000 existing jobs in the corridor and the 60,000 jobs the corridor will add before 2030."

The Council's New Starts Program director, Mark Fuhrmann, said the route and means of transit are options selected not by the council but by the local communities along the line, with the benefit of considerable data and research. In the case of the Southwest corridor, roadway capacity is a serious issue. Existing roads in the area are insufficient to handle the expected increase in demand, even with an expansion of bus services. Mitigating the expected congestion without the additional Southwest Light Rail would be difficult if not nearly impossible.

"One three-car light-rail train can carry the same number of people as roughly six extended buses," said Fuhrmann. "Light rail is the single best means for us to serve the residents and employers of the area in a way that is efficient and that does not contribute to congestion."

The Southwest Light Rail line is in the preliminary engineering phase of the federal New Starts program. The project was among just 10 elite projects selected from more than 100 nationwide applicants. Governor Dayton requested $25 million for the line in his bonding bill. The state's total share of the $1.25 billion project is $125 million and the people of Minnesota will receive a nine-to-one return on investment for every state dollar Minnesota puts into the project.

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