From today's Strib: Met Council vote embraces light rail for St. Paul central corridor.
Is the Central Corridor Light Rail a good or bad investment?
This depends entirely on your perspective and compared to what.
If you are from Minnesota, this is probably good, since half of the support (well 49%, since 2% of federal $ originate in Minnesota) would come from out of state, and dividing total benefits by local costs probably makes it a good deal locally. The alternative use of that money would not be in Minnesota, but in some other state.
The more capital intensive the project, the more federal dollars are available.
Yet many of the rationales for the LRT are dubious, and the costs are needlessly high.
First is the claim that capacity on Washington Avenue at the Mississippi River bridge for buses will be exhausted by 2020. I believe this is bogus, and is unimaginative about how to manage bus service on a BRT. Moreover, this assumes Washington Avenue would be kept open to cars.
For those from out of the area, Washington Avenue is a medium volume 4 lane road bisecting the University of Minnesota that connects University Avenue (where the main part of the Central Corridor will run) with downtown Minneapolis. While it might inconvenience some, this road could be closed to private cars with no major traffic disaster ensuing, assuming a few appropriate countermeasures were undertaken. It would remain open for transit vehicles, emergency vehicles, and deliveries as necessary.
Second it includes about $200 million dollars (what's a few million dollars between friends) for a tunnel for the LRT under Washington Avenue (so Washington Avenue can remain open for cars). This is terribly wasteful and will not noticeably increase speeds or ridership compared to an at-grade transitway along Washington Avenue (and may decrease ridership since additional distance to access trains would be required).
The University of Minnesota has the most widely used transit service in the state, the campus connector between the Minneapolis and St. Paul campuses. This is a bus system on a dedicated bus right-of-way and works quite well.
It is always assumed that "choice riders" won't take the bus, and maybe they won't if bus service is as poor as it presently is, but the technology is being conflated with the mismanagement of the technology. Will LRT look so good in 50 years?
The corridor certainly has redevelopment opportunities, and there is already a buzz of development (including warehouse to condo/loft/flats conversions) in anticipation of the line. Would this happen with a BRT ... I don't know, and the train (rather than the bus) has already left the station I suspect. But there are still open issues.
If the University, the city, and the Met Council were serious about maximizing transit investment, they would try to be cost-effective (not cheap, not wasteful), so that resources could be best spent. Money spent on the tunnel cannot be spent on other things (more trains, more network, signs at busstops which tell you which bus stops there). Every dollar has an opportunity cost, a point that is too easily forgotten.