The Biggest Losers on the Central Corridor Line
Last week in a small ceremony Governor Dayton accepted a commitment from the Federal Transit Agency to provide $487 million to fund one half of the estimated construction cost of the Central Corridor Light Rail line. What this $487 million represents to supporters of the Central Corridor LRT line is “free money” i.e. dollars received from Washington D.C. Instead of thinking of this as a money bonanza for Minnesota, the project should be judged more like the reality game show “The Biggest Loser.” Sadly, the true story along University Avenue is that light rail construction will produce no winners, but only losers. There will be the heart break of bankruptcy for local small business owners, the nightmare of increased traffic delays for commuters, higher fares and fewer options for local bus riders, and of course the taxpayers who will be on the hook for the huge on-going subsidies.
This so called deliverance from traffic congestion is in reality just the opposite. The entirety of University Avenue looks more like a war zone than a transit zone. Traffic along most of the street has been reduced to two lanes. Bus stops have been removed and six foot tall fences now line sidewalks that have been blocked off at intersections and cross streets by concrete barriers.
The utopian planners refer to this destruction of small businesses and current traffic patterns as progress, but at what cost and who ultimately will pay the price?
In this game of forced relocation that the Metropolitan Council is carrying out there is a long list of “Biggest Losers.”
First, there will be dozens of small business enterprises along the Avenue that will be forced into bankruptcy or relocation. Their stores have been isolated from their customers by fences, barricades, traffic detours and a fifty-foot wide construction zone. All of the businesses now have restricted access and limited parking. But those with no off-street parking or dependent on walk-in trade will parish during the three year construction period. The end result will be dozens of vacant buildings and abandoned businesses along the corridor that the new light rail line is intended to serve.
The second group of “Biggest Losers” are the people who try to traverse the destruction zone on a daily basis. This group includes anyone who lives south of University Avenue who wants to travel North and anyone who lives North of University Avenue and wants to go South. Due to the construction, many North-South cross streets have been closed off and many major North-South; like Snelling Avenue, have been reduced to one lane. Any attempt to cross University Avenue has led to long delays in addition to making it nearly impossible to traverse University Avenue going East to West. But this is only the start for those brave souls that dare to travel across or down University, because in a few short years there will be 30 ton trains traveling along the Avenue at 20 to 30 miles per hour. Colliding with a 30 ton light rail train will crush any SUV and totally destroy any fool in a SMART car. So if you think this is a temporary inconvenience, think again; the folks at Transit for Livable Communities want to make St. Paul unbearable for citizens with automobiles.
Add to the group of “Biggest Losers” the current bus riders. The destruction zone has caused massive problems for bus riders. Many bus stops have been removed or relocated and schedules changed. The challenge is that if your bus stop has not been removed it may still be almost impossible to get to the bus stop. But alas when the light rail line is operational; what a relief. Maybe not, because the train will have fewer stops, meaning longer walks to your destination. The solution for those passengers is to take the bus that will continue to serve riders along University Avenue. The problem with this is that bus service will be less frequent in some cases non-existent; too bad for the current bus rider.
Last but not least, the taxpayers will be the “Biggest Losers” of all. This billion dollar boondoggle created by the Metropolitan Council will serve few customers beyond the current transit riders. The real purpose of the project is an attempt to redevelop University Avenue into a high density corridor from its existing mix of small and medium sized businesses. By driving out existing businesses with a massive reconstruction of the street, property values will decline and allow the city to buy land at depressed prices in order to subsidize redevelopment at taxpayer expense.
Not only will taxpayers foot the bill for the construction of the light rail line, they will also foot the bill for much of the redevelopment cost for the cities utopian plan.
In addition, taxpayers will pick-up the millions of dollars annual operating subsidy for the train. Currently, the annual operating subsidies for transit service in the Twin Cities are over $200 million. In the end, the real story will not be who the “Biggest Losers” are, but rather who the “Survivors” are after the billion dollar construction project is finished.