The Politics of Dumb Infrastructure

We have a political situation in the United States where Democrats are too eager to build anything if it creates a job and the Republicans are too willing to call a project a boondoggle without first investigating its merit. It is this standstill that Josh Barro argues in How Republicans Made Both Parties Stupid On Fixing Infrastructure:

Republicans aren’t interested in coming up with smarter, more efficient ways to build rail infrastructure. So;Democrats fear that if they don’t defend wasteful, ill-conceived rail projects, they won’t get any at all. 

Barro uses the example of New Jersey Governor Chris Christie killing a proposed $10 billion railway tunnel into New York City;

The project was overly expensive and the terminal, in particular, was unnecessary — New York Penn Station, which currently receives trains from New Jersey, has plenty of platforms, they’re just used inefficiently today. We could much more cheaply build a new tunnel to serve the existing station.

It’s hard not to apply a local context. The Southwest Corridor light rail alignment comes to mind. The preferred local alternative is one of compromise: taking federal money while it’s still available, getting it done quickly, and bypassing Uptown in the process.

It leads us to a political question of cost-effectiveness.

This requirement puts elected officials in a quandary: should they work to build the most effective transit network possible, or should they limit their ambitions for fear that the federal government will rule out any funding at all? The Transportation Politic

The densest, most urban neighborhoods of Minneapolis will be passed up partly because we want to get it done quickly, and our decision-makers will argue that something is better than nothing. The result: we’ll build a $750 million project through the least dense neighborhoods of Minneapolis where we’re likely to see the least ridership and the least associated spillover development (there are excellent maps on Net Density outlining population density, access to employment and access to automobiles along both routes).

There is certainly merit to building transit in a cost-effective manner, but it shouldn’t necessarily be done at the cost of creating an efficient system that connects meaningful places.

In order to receive money from Washington, Metro will have to show that the proposed route meets national cost-effectiveness guidelines, which are stringent enough to sieve out a large percentage of proposed new transit lines. ­– Transportation Politic

Minneapolis is getting the lesser of two routes due to a lack of political consensus on what makes good infrastructure.  It’s this orderly, but dumb, system that makes planners and politicians play to a bureaucratic equation that is supposed to guide local officials towards the best alternative. Only it never actually works out that way and it usually forces smart people into making highly compromised and less-than-ideal decisions.

With local officials wanting the Federal government to pick-up a majority of the tab on the Southwest Corridor, they are going to play ball with the cost-effectiveness ratio. Getting all the money locally, or through the State Government, would be an impossible political task regardless of the merit. Can you imagine asking the Republican Party of Minnesota to pay for the entirety of a light rail line? In fact, you’d have trouble selling the idea to most Democrats.

Why must we have a cost-effectiveness equation? Is it to select the best projects? No, it’s merely to prove that we’re doing infrastructure in a supposedly financially responsible manner, primarily concerning initial capital costs.

Yet, this equation won’t save us money in the long run because it leads to, above all, cutting corners. We should be cutting the corners that need to be cut, but cutting corners for the sake of cutting corners with no regard for what we’re cutting is to say that all infrastructure projects are created equal. They aren’t and they shouldn’t be viewed as such.

We do need to build infrastructure other than big highways, new bridges and shiny sports stadiums. However, not all rail projects are necessarily a good investment (e.g.: Tampa Bay to Orlando High Speed Train). Democrats should be mindful of this. But, Republicans need to stop saying that everything is a boondoggle. The more they do this, the more they lose credibility and appear out-of-touch.

Republican needs to get off the obsession with big roads and highway spending (in all fairness, Democrats are proponents of large road-related infrastructure projects too). Michelle Bachmann, the Tea Party representative of Minnesota, constantly laments wasteful government spending … expect when it concerns widening I-94 to St. Cloud or spending $750 million to connect exurban Hudson. It is this, I believe, why Barro writes;

But Republicans aren’t interested in building better rail projects — they just don’t want to build them at all. Christie hasn’t made a priority of building a smarter, cheaper Hudson tunnel to replace ARC; instead, he’s widening the New Jersey Turnpike.

Bachmann would be doing her district a much bigger favor if she advocated for a transit line (rail or BRT) that connected downtown Stillwater to St. Paul or to extend the Northstar Line to St. Cloud. Both of these projects could be done for nearly the same cost as the projects she is advocating, but would have a bigger, more meaningful outcome. These could be done in a reasonable and arguably conservative way.

Barro has some more suggestions for Republicans;

Republicans ought to own the issue of American uncompetitiveness on infrastructure costs. They should seize on a report out today from the Competitive Enterprise Institute, about how America’s regulations on rolling stock prevent us from using the same kinds of train cars that European countries do. Our trains have to be custom-designed and heavy, which makes them more expensive, less efficient and less reliable. This is dumb and we should fix it.


[Note1 : the requirements of cost-effectiveness have been loosened since 2010, but the Southwest Transit route remains the same].

[Note 2: Stillwater was redistricted into Betty McCollum’s CD. I can’t believe I missed that. – Thanks Ken!].


39 thoughts on “The Politics of Dumb Infrastructure

    1. Nathaniel

      Walker –

      Great question. I have hundreds of thoughts on the topic, many of which I do not have time to hash out.

      On a macro-scale, it starts with Democrats being open to viewing infrastructure as an investment in infrastructure; and not in a jobs investment. Republicans need to be more critical of the process itself, and not so much the end result or the sticker shock from a high-price tag.

      We need to have both parties see land-use and transportation integrated. We have a system now that thrives on not only ‘get it done’ politics, but also “build it and they will come” wishful thinking. This leads us to investing millions in new projected developments like TOD stations by the highway outside Big Lake that ignore the fact that Big Lake actually has an existing downtown would would benefit greatly from transit.

      Democrats and Republicans alike need to stop worrying about transportation inducing new development and growth, and instead view it as a way to connect people and existing places. New development will spur around these places, but it shouldn’t be the primary goal of transportation. And, it is better to have a place that will incrementally grow up slowly over time than merely something that will pop-up overnight and provide a windfall of quick redevelopment money.

      Part of the problem is that we have made these political compromises in the ‘get it done’ system that have lead to some poor performing transit lanes (e.g.: Northstar). Now, it’s easy for Republicans to criticize the line because it is inefficient, doesn’t connect much and costs a lot of money – yet at the same time, they do not help provide the framework to let is prosper. I shouldn’t point blame at Republicans exclusively. Democrats appear to be pro-transit AND pro-road; often times leading to situations where both infrastructure investments are directly competing against each other.

      There is a lot that can be said on recommendations; but I recommend one simple thing over almost everything: travel. Have Republicans and Democrats alike travel to foreign places with more resilient land use patterns and transportation systems that accommodate. Experience is key.

      Best -Nate

      P.S. Thank you for joining the Streets.MN team – you’ve produced some excellent work!

      1. Walker

        Excellent points. I especially agree with your last one about travel. Particularly if done as an act of learning instead of just checking off sites, travel provides critical perspective and insight. Sadly, too many have a difficult time separating what’s good from what they don’t like or is simply different or that they don’t understand.

        I think both sides are equally guilty of hyperbole and that leads to mistrust. We inflate the merits of what we like and then we get our way, the inflated merits aren’t reality, and distrust sets in (or we inflate the problems of some policy, the sky doesn’t fall, and distrust abounds). We win the battle but loose the war.

        More later.

        Thanks for the welcome. It is truly an honor to be associated with all of you.

  1. Ross Williams

    This is little more than a technocrat’s lament. Things would be so much better if the rest of us stayed out of the decision and just let them build the best technical solution. Highway engineers make the same argument and too often their “best” solution has been designed to move motor vehicles as fast possible at the expense of every other value.

    The truth is that the Southwest corridor out to Eden Prairie doesn’t really make sense from a transit perspective. There are not dense employment centers that will generate a lot of trips. Building high capacity transit as a commuter service for people who live in the suburbs is a waste of resources on par with freeway capacity that is only used a few hours each day. And, like the freeway system, it necessarily requires compromises to service for people who live in dense neighborhoods in between.

    1. Nathaniel M Hood Post author

      Ross –

      Thanks for commenting.

      While I used the Southwest Corridor as an example, I did not intend it to be the main point of discussion. I meant to simply say that there is a better alternative route that is, more or less, universally agreed upon for the Southwest line and that we aren’t doing that particular route because of an equation developed that has no consideration for the merit of a project … just the cost-effectiveness as it relates (typically) to upfront capital costs.

      The question I have is about getting beyond the political barrier of “get it done” decision-making for infrastructure.

      Thanks. _Nate

      1. Ross Williams

        Nate –

        I realize you are talking about the technical requirements to get highly ranked for federal funding. My point was that misses the larger issue. I don’t think the problem was that a line to Uptown wouldn’t meet those requirements, it was that a line through Uptown all the way to Eden Prairie wouldn’t meet those requirements.

        The decision to go to Eden Prairie was based on a political calculus of what would win support. Once that decision was made, it required compromises to get the line to work financially for transit purposes. I don’t think the idea of cost-benefit is inherently bad. Nor is it unusual for the interests of urban residents to be sacrificed for suburban development. That has been the pattern in Minnesota for a long time.

  2. Charles Marohn

    Awesome article, Nate. (As usual, trite comment, Ross — you always start with your least persuasive thought.)

    One thing, Nate. You said:

    Can you imagine asking the Republican Party of Minnesota to pay for the entirety of a light rail line? In fact, you’d have trouble selling the idea to most Democrats.

    I can’t in today’s construct, for certain, but in a different system where infrastructure investments were made in support of productive land use patterns (instead of as speculative attempts to induce growth) I absolutely can.

    We’re a long way from that reality. A focus on the real public ROI of these “investments” would be one way to begin to bridge the divide.

    1. Nathaniel

      Chuck –

      Agreed. Under today’s construct, it’d be hard to bridge that gap. I think money talks; and looking ROI is how the conversation must start. It’ll be hard to get both parties under the same umbrella unless it deals with hard numbers.

      The divide in in the US on transportation spending is something that has become too entrenched in partisan politics. It doesn’t happen like this in other parts of the developed world. A great example was happening in Sydney right as I was moving away; the Green Party and the Conservative Party (known as the Liberals) started to form a coalition to bypass the moderate Labour Party to expand the heavy rail system. I don’t recall specific details; but the Greens saw it as an environmental move and the Conservatives saw it as a smart, long-term financially-viable project. They’ll likely get a good project out of it, too.

      I have hundreds of thoughts on the topic, but a busy day ahead. Thanks for reading Chuck! -Nate

    2. Ross Williams

      Chuck –

      Yes, I know its “trite” in your ideological world to blame technocrats for failure but insightful to blame partisan politics. What is really trite is to suggest that somehow partisan politics is the driver of bad transportation decisions.

      The reality is that the Northstar line is not a failure because it fails on transit grounds any more than a diamond necklace is a failure because it doesn’t keep you warm. Most transit “failures” around the country were built as “urban jewelry” like the Northstar line. The Northstar line makes the areas around its stations more desirable locations, no matter how little it is actually used. By and large, those communities are not competing with densely developed urban areas with high quality transit. They are competing against other suburban communities and the presence of Northstar gives them a leg up.

      That has nothing to do with partisan politics. It has everything to do with interest politics.
      The continued investment in pedestrian hostile roads is a bipartisan effort. The building trades support Democrats, so they talk about jobs. The residential developers and highway contractors support Republicans, so they talk about development. MnDOT’s engineers work with both interest groups to lobby for their poorly conceived investments.

      ” in a different system where infrastructure investments were made in support of productive land use patterns (instead of as speculative attempts to induce growth)”

      There is, of course, no real difference between those two things. The argument is where to “induce growth” not whether. The truth is if you want to create “strong towns”, it is going to cost a lot of money. Because without investment to make those towns attractive places to live and work it isn’t going to happen. But if you don’t live in town, you probably don’t understand that. You see making “strong towns’ as creating great places to drive to for work, entertainment and recreation.

        1. Ross Williams

          Yes, I have read what Chuck writes. I wonder if you have. He has opposed a variety of infrastructure investments to improve connectivity in small rural Minnesota communities because we “can’t afford them”. He opposed an investment in a new sewer system for a small community on the grounds, again, that it wasn’t “cost effective”. But it is precisely these kinds of investments that are needed to attract people back to living in town, rather than scattering across the rural countryside.

          Chuck has the ideology down, its the application that is lacking. He doesn’t actually live in town. And he keeps repeating CNU talking points while opposing spending the money necessary to actually create pedestrian friendly small towns that are attractive places to live. In fact, he has no real vision beyond a boilerplate critique of existing sprawl inducing investment choices.

          But I didn’t post here to argue with Chuck about “strong towns”. That is hopeless.

          My point was that very few public investments are driven by a single criteria. Transportation choices, in particular, have far ranging impacts on other parts of the community.That inevitably means, whatever investment is made, some transportation values will be compromised to accommodate other community values. Letting technocrats make decisions and you get the MnDOT highways that destroy the livability of rural communities – but they do move vehicles safely and efficiently.

            1. Ross Williams

              Chuck –

              You are dissembling.

              Here is a link to your critique of Staples Mn which had applied for money to create a bridge over a railroad switching yard that divides the town.


              “”There is no direct or indirect financial return to the government for this savings. … The time savings is a purely social benefit for the people of Staples””

              In short, you are opposing infrastructure investment to improve the livability of a small town on the basis that it serves no other purpose.

              There are numerous other examples on your blog of similar arguments against connectivity and other investments to improve livability. In theory, you think we should spend money “better”, in practice you apparently oppose spending money on any investments to improve communities as places to live.


              1. Ross Williams

                You seem to have turned this into a personal argument. Call me trite again if you like, but this is really an abuse my and other people’s time. If you have something substantive to say, say it. But I am not wasting any more time responding to you.

                1. Ross Williams

                  I suppose if you agree with this basic premise:

                  ” What we question is the relative wisdom and the financial structure of projects such as these that have strictly local, social benefits and no real financial return for the broader population that is shouldering the costs in an era of increasing austerity”

                  It is exactly the argument I said Chuck had made. I would point out, that it applies equally to virtually every federally funded local project. What’s the “financial return” to folks in Grand Rapids, much less some other state, from light rail to Eden Prairie.

                  1. Matt Steele

                    Nothing substantive here, just thought it would be cool to extend the level of replies out to the max.

                    But I don’t understand the defense of projects which have absolutely no chance of ever coming close to a full return on investment. The reality is that if these projects had a net positive ROI, they would be locally funded. Staples could get their bridge if they wanted. Uptown can get their subway connection to downtown if they wanted (yes the demand is there). But the political process messes up our entire build environment, along with trying to get money from up the food chain from St. Paul or Washington.

  3. Mike Hicks

    I find it difficult to split things up as Democratic vs. Republican or liberal vs. conservative issues — I’ve always seen politics as a multidimensional continuum. I mean, Ralph Nader (Green Party) and Pat Buchanan (Reform Party) were able to agree on certain issues back in 2000 (even though they wildly disagreed on others) while George W. Bush and Al Gore were frequently threading the needle with barely distinguishable positions.

    Politicians tend to be follow whatever gives them more power and influence, and will act based upon self-interest, the positions of their major donors, and the positions of party leaders or other allies. A growing problem is the impact of lobbying organizations who appear to gain influence by promising well-paying jobs in the private sector once the politician leaves office. (And don’t forget all of the staff members who are similarly given low wages in the public sector but eventually land high-paying lobbyist positions.) There are of course politicians who try to do the right thing, but it becomes harder and harder as campaign costs rise and more time must be spent gathering dollars.

    Transportation decision-making can happen at many different levels ranging from cities and counties all the way up through all branches of the state and federal governments. Ever since road works agencies first began appearing, it was clear that politics can lead to bad decisions, so I think there’s always been a desire for engineers to develop objective measures to try and drive most processes internally, without political overhead, and to help deflect the political pressure that does creep in.

    Unfortunately, many of the “objective” planning guidelines have turned out to be far too focused on automotive transportation. A big example is measuring numbers of vehicles rather than numbers of people moving along streets and highways. Pedestrians, cyclists, rollerbladers, and so on don’t get counted along city streets. Carpoolers and bus passengers go along city streets too, but don’t get counted there or on freeways either.

    Also, even devoid of the standard political influence, transportation guidelines have often been driven by the interests of suppliers — the companies that make various types of pavement and the “furniture” that graces the sides of the roadways. Similar problems crop up with rail planning, where the engineers doing design work are pushed to use more expensive layouts and materials — often because the engineers are working for the company doing the construction work under a design-build process or are working for a company that will successfully bid on the project in the future.

    It’s a good idea to try and separate out much of the engineering work to avoid that type of cost escalation. Government cutbacks have probably caused many good engineers to be forced out of the public sector or avoid entering it in the first place. Similarly, there may be better-paying private jobs out there, so there could be some incentive structures in place similar to what we see with the politician-to-lobbyist turnover problem.

    Also, even though it can cause problems, I think it’s often good for the (informed) public to help make choices when there isn’t a clear winner when trying to use objective measures. The whole 3A vs. 3C alignment issue with Southwest LRT probably should have gone up for a public referendum. Perhaps 3A still would have won considering the preference of Hennepin County’s suburban population for faster travel, but the denser population base of the 3C alignment may have been more motivated to get out and support something that would help them more directly (though there would have been some Uptown residents voting for 3A to avoid construction disruption, and many suburban residents would want it to go through Uptown for various reasons).

    Unfortunately, there are many, many decisions to be made over the course of any project, and doing a public referendum on even a small subset would be overwhelming. I think Metro Transit has been slowly getting better and better at public outreach by setting up advisory committees with people who want to be involved from the start, holding fairly frequent open houses, and even doing active outreach to communities that don’t typically get into the process through the traditional channels. It doesn’t mean that everyone will be happy or that all of the decisions will be great, but it has been helping.

    I also really think the Internet needs to be fully embraced by planning agencies. The old Southwest LRT website isn’t very good, in my opinion. In contrast, I’ve been pretty impressed by the Snelling BRT site, which actually has a page laying out the decision-making process and listing members of the various committees. You’d never know that the Southwest LRT has a budget 100x bigger than the Snelling enhanced bus service.

    I’d like to see a government agency set up to enforce some standards on community involvement. They could help provide tools to smaller communities or other agencies that don’t have the technical know-how for building websites or doing outreach, and audit others which do wish to go their own way to ensure that adequate amounts of information is being conveyed to the public.

    1. Ross Williams

      “I’d like to see a government agency set up to enforce some standards on community involvement.”

      Amen. I think the problem is not too much politics, but too little, almost all drawn from a very narrow spectrum of those with economic interests. The lack of significant citizen involvement beyond lobbyists is a glaring deficiency in all parts of Minnesota government.

      Transportation decisions are ones that have many community impacts beyond simply technical considerations. People are the experts on their own community and too often those experts are excluded from the decisions.

  4. Nathaniel

    Mike –

    What you have written is insightful, smart, calculated and all-around excellent. I encourage you to make it into a Streets.MN post to help continue this discussion.

    Thank you. _Nate

  5. Shane Phillips

    Nate, great article. I think it’s a good sign that there appears to be a shift in the conversation occuring, moving away from “do we need infrastructure” to “what infrastructure do we need?” even if it hasn’t yet made its way into the mainstream political discussion.

    Also, I knew it had to be you who wrote this when I saw the “orderly, but dumb” part.


    1. Nathaniel M Hood Post author

      Shane –

      Thanks for commenting. I agree that there is a shift going on; and I see that as a positive sign. Hopefully it’ll hit the politician mainstream sooner than later. Regarding “Orderly, but dumb” – you can thank Chuck for that one. I’m basically stealing a great line from him.

      Best – Nate

  6. helsinki

    What I think is missing from this discussion is acknowledgment of the long-held partisan clichés regarding development patterns:

    1. Auto-centric and low density suburban and exurban development allegedly benefits conservative politicians. This is based on a few assumptions. First, property ownership (especially in land) presumably makes people more conservative because their ownership makes them stakeholders in the status quo. Second, dispersed development supposedly requires less governance, that is, when people don’t live cheek by jowl they are less inclined to accept the delegation of authority to government that denser settlement requires. Under this theory, auto ownership re-inforces land ownership: it multiplies the atomozing effect of the single family home.

    2. Conversely, dense settlement patterns (like those required to support rail infrastructure) supposedly benefit the political left (see, for instance: Under this theory, living close to other people makes individuals aware of the degree to which delegating authority to government is required for society to function. For instance, if you live in a building with 40 other people and on a block with 500 people, you will tend to support the imposition of rules to govern the large amount of common space that you share.

    Obviously there is a grain of truth in both these theories. But only a grain. If you’ve lived in a city, you’ve probably seen the curmudgeonly urbanite publicly railing against immigrants (recently in a grocery store, super awkward). And if you’ve got relatives farming in the country you may be taken aback by their quasi-socialist co-op ways (and how the older folks just sort of drop by to visit each other like they live on a communal farm).

    The clichés are important to repeat because people believe them. Many republican and democratic politicians still seem to think in these terms, unfortunately. It’s one reason (along with a host of others) that democrats like trains and transit, and republicans like cars and highways.

    1. Matt Steele

      I think it was Andres Duany who was talking about the principal of subsidiarity at CNU 21. This is critical in how we think about how government should function and how it is failing to function today with regard to infrastructure and our built environment.

      If you live on a block of 500 people in a city of a million people, many of your decisions can be made at a block, neighborhood, or city level. We have a problem where people think “government” is “Federal government” and it’s rooted in reality. That’s why people think that libertarianism and urbanism are at odds. But the principle of subsidiarity turns this whole thing upside down. People can trust a government making relatively invasive policy about their lives when it’s their own block. And they can move to another block if they don’t like it.

  7. David

    Good God. Can we get over the SWLRT routing already? It wasn’t done *solely* to meet the CEI. There are other very good reasons for the chosen route, not the least of which is avoiding duplicative transit service.

    Uptown, please get over yourself. You are not the end-all, be-all of urban living.

    1. Nathaniel M Hood Post author

      David –

      While true the SWLTR was not chosen for cost-effectiveness alone. The process was also driven by ROW (i.e.: ease of acquiring land) and based upon creating new development. I believe that we likely have a differing view on how transit lines investments like SWLTR ought to operate. It is my thought that we should use bus ridership and urban land density (as well as social goals) as a strong indicator on where tracks go.

      Instead of banking on a future ridership that may develop from future development, I see the much more viable option as identifying areas with strong transit ridership (usually those areas with a more dense, urban built environment) and improving it. Furthermore, regarding speculative development, I question how much development will happen as a result of the SWLRT in the Minneapolis portion of the track.

      I will note that one strength of the SWLRT is that it will connect at The Interchange, whereas that connection would be difficult with the other alternatives. This may have been a factor in the decision, but I do not believe it was the primary factor.


      1. David

        One question I have never heard Greenway alignment supporters answer:

        What improvements do that alignment bring that justify $300 million? How much faster can someone from Uptown get downtown on such an LRT vs. aBRT? How much time is saved getting from Uptown to Eden Prairie by avoiding a short connector bus or streetcar trip out to the West Lake station? The same questions can be asked of the reverse trips.

        The 3A alignment wouldn’t serve anyone from greater South Minneapolis. It would at best serve a narrow population around Uptown and south Whittier. To me, that’s clearly not worth $300 million.

        As for redevelopment in Minneapolis, Ryan already has renderings for development around Van White. They are chomping at the bit. The hangup is not the developers, it’s the county’s atrocious idea to put a commuter rail layover facility next to an LRT station!

        1. Matt Steele

          I don’t think it’s accurate to assume it would be an extra $300 million. The options were really tilted towards 3A and against 3C. They botched the cost of freight realignment or colocation. They overestimated the value provided by the stops to the point it’s laughable.

          But yes, it does make sense to invest hundreds of millions of dollars in Uptown. Why? Because that’s where the transit riders are. That’s where the development is already happening. Doubtful Bassett Creek will ever see a fraction of the development Uptown is seeing, and Uptown is mostly organic development meeting market demand.

              1. David

                Are you saying it *won’t* cost $300 million more to route through Uptown? Because I have a very hard time believing it would be so wrong. Think about what they would have to dig up and reconstruct, both in Uptown and downtown.

                If you’re objecting to the ridership numbers at 21st St., that’s not relevant either. I’m asking why an Uptown alignment is better. Who would use it, given that there are plenty of transit options there already?

  8. Jon Hendricks

    Sounds to me like Barrow is stereotyping Republicans out of partisanship. Governor Daniels (R-IN) supported high speed rail connecting Indy to Chicago and Governor Walker wanted to use high speed rail dollars to enhance the Milwaukee-Chicago line. Republicans are not saying everything is a boondoggle. They are instead advocating for what they think is appropriate to their constituents. In the case of Bachmann, the great majority of her constituents get around via automobile, not transit.

  9. Allen

    “Bachmann would be doing her district a much bigger favor if she advocated for a transit line (rail or BRT) that connected downtown Stillwater to St. Paul or to extend the Northstar Line to St. Cloud”

    What are you basing this claim on? Only 1,000 people a day use Northstar today. Extending it to St. Cloud would barely change that number. Vast majority of the 400 or so current riders of the bus servers from STCLD to Big Lake would just have a train to ride the whole way. Even a 20% increase in people using the line would mean $150m – $300m spent just so another 200 people a day take the train?

    1. Nathaniel

      Allen –

      The Northstar line isn’t a shining example of the benefits of rail transportation. In fact, I’d agree that in that particular case, something else needed to happen. But – I would disagree that connecting it to St. Cloud would not help the ridership number.

      I think that a connection to St. Cloud would be a drastic improvement. To make a network successful, you need to connect successful places – and in my opinion, *not a future TOD development TBA off the highway in Big Lake, for example*.

      Less Americans than ever are opting to drive []. I think this trend will continue – and the last thing we need to be doing is investing in more expensive road infrastructure that will be obsolete the day it’s finished. We need to find alternatives. BRT just might be that option. I’m certainly willing to accept that in the short-to-mid run. We’ll need to invest in rail at some point. It needs to be done right.

      The Northstar line was rushed forward, and besides not garnering much ridership, it succeeded in creating an example for many anti-rail people out there that all rail is doomed to fail. I don’t think that is the case. We need to look at each project individually. Yes, Northstar has shortcomings, but connecting it to St. Cloud now that we have it, isn’t one of them.

  10. Allen

    What sort of numbers are we talking about? What source is that based on? For years I’ve been seeing people insist that connecting St. Cloud – a town of 65,000 people 65 miles from dwntwn MPLS – will produce the sort of ridership numbers needed to justify the large capital investment in extending the line.

    This is claimed despite it being clear that up until now when we’ve studied it, the numbers have shown the opposite. The bus connection today has a daily ridership of @175. Even if that were to quadruple by extending to St. Cloud, ridership would fall far short of Federal guidelines for covering the project $350 million it would take to extend Northstar to St. Cloud.

    So please, where is the proof that a nice town 65 miles from MPLS is going to generate the ridership needed? Unless we have numbers, it’s just a bunch of fun but relatively unproductive yammering.

    Recent Northstar Ridership :

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