In a shocking 4-3 decision, the Hennepin County Regional Railroad Authority (which is to say the Hennepin County commissioners) voted last month to divert transit sales tax revenues to roads. At a time when transit funding is facing a crisis in the state legislature due to Republican opposition, it’s hard to imagine a more cynical move.
This happened because the Blue Line Bottineau Corridor from Minneapolis to Brooklyn Park is stalled.
BNSF Railroad doesn’t want to share its right of way through Golden Valley, Robbinsdale, Crystal and Brooklyn Park, and that is unlikely to change soon.
Meanwhile, the tax revenues are accumulating. According to supporters of the funding diversion, there are no other transit projects in the county’s capital plan. We should demand to know why. Rather than embrace other good transit projects, a majority of the county board sees a slush fund that could be raided to pay for road projects.
This sets a terrible precedent. Thanks to the legislature’s balkanizing of transit funding, the counties are now a major piece of the funding puzzle. The absence of alternate projects in the county plan means only that the county hasn’t worked with Metro Transit to develop a prioritized list.
Here are some of the worthy projects, in no particular order of priority, from the long list.
The Midtown Greenway rail line
In my opinion, this is the single best transit project in the metro area. Connecting the Green Line on the west with the Blue Line on the east promises a healthy ridership increase. It will spur considerable redevelopment, including density increases that support the Minneapolis 2040 plan. Cutting travel time from Uptown to Hiawatha from 30 minutes to 10 minutes will dramatically improve transportation and, therefore, the quality of life for the low-income, transit-dependent heart of south Minneapolis. As a byproduct, it will improve security for Midtown Greenway bikers and pedestrians.
The D Line
The bus rapid transit (BRT) replacement for Route 5, the busiest bus route in the system, has been delayed due to lack of funding. It will bring faster service to Bloomington, Richfield and Brooklyn Center in addition to Minneapolis. The neighboring C Line in north Minneapolis is experiencing a 30 percent ridership increase. We can expect the same from the D Line.
The E Line
This is the BRT replacement for Route 6 serving Minneapolis and Edina. Based on the success of the A Line and the C Line arterial BRTs, the E Line should produce a similar ridership increase at a time when conventional bus routes — slower, less frequent — are losing ridership.
Implement the Service Improvement Plan
Back in 2012, Metro Transit and the Metropolitan Council approved the Regional Service Improvement Plan, which is currently being refreshed as Network Next. It has received little attention, but it’s an extensive list of unglamorous improvements to the regular bus system. In addition to some route extensions, Network Next calls for more frequent service on most routes. Included are the bus feeders to the Green Line Southwest Corridor.
I could go on, but you get the idea. Transit in the Twin Cities has been perpetually starved for funding, and yet the county is considering putting it on a diet. How short-sighted.