Thursday, October 18, 2012

An offer we can't refuse

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"As government expands, liberty contracts." —Ronald Reagan

Light rail transit is rolling down the tracks to a neighborhood near you. As far as the Metropolitan Council and Gov. Mark Dayton are concerned, taxpayers and those who live in the trains' path have three options:
  • Lead
  • Follow
  • Get out of the way
Three lawsuits against the Central Corridor LRT line illustrate this.

When Minnesota Public Radio complained that light rail trains rumbling down Cedar Street in front of its downtown Saint Paul lobby doors could disrupt its broadcast and recording studios, the Metropolitan Council refused to re-route the tracks. When MPR asked for a spring-steel floating slab system that has proven to reduce noise and vibration from a similar transit route in Basel, Switzerland, Met Council Chairman Peter Bell said, "I think MPR does an excellent job in news and classical music. Engineering light-rail systems is not their area of expertise." MPR's subsequent lawsuit against the Met Council was dismissed. A less-expensive rubber-based floating slab system will be installed, which the experts at the Met Council assure MPR will work just fine.

When the University of Minnesota balked at the prospect of vibration and electromagnetic interference from light rail trains disrupting sensitive laboratories through the heart of its campus, they proposed an alternate route on the northern outskirts of campus. When the Met Council declined to reroute the tracks, the U sued. The University dropped its lawsuit in an agreement with the Met Council that includes mitigation measures that the Met Council assures the U will work just fine.

When the Saint Paul NAACP complained that potential negative effects of the line on residents and businesses have not been adequately analyzed, St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman's office commented, "I'm not sure it's inevitable bad things will happen." The NAACP's lawsuit against the Met Council, the Federal Transit Administration, and the federal Department of Transportation is still pending.

Governor Dayton is a big supporter of the proposed Southwest Light Rail Transit route. Just don't confuse him with the facts.

When Gov. Dayton's own Department of Employment and Economic Development rated the proposed Southwest Light Rail Transit last out of twelve metro area projects for grant money (see chart), Gov. Dayton ignored his own agency's scorecard and awarded the proposed Southwest Light Rail Transit a $2 million DEED grant.

The Southwest Transitway Draft Environmental Impact Statement lists "severe" noise impacts "in a number of residential locations...[due to] high anticipated speeds of [sic] or light rail vehicle-mounted audible warning signal (bell) use at some stations and crossings;" vibration; noise and vibration from freight trains re-routed to make way for the light rail; up to hundreds of property acquisitions depending on the final route; and safety and security impacts.

I wouldn't bet against the Southwest LRT getting built due to environmental, noise, vibration, or safety concerns from property owners and residents. Light rail transit in the Twin Cities metro area is an offer from the Met Council we can't — or won't be allowed to — refuse.

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