Honestly, there are more than ten reasons why light rail should not be a transit option anywhere in the Twin Cities, but here are ten that I compiled for a flyer. The links are the footnotes to my research.
Top Ten Reasons to Oppose Light Rail
10. Our region does not have the population density for light rail. According to the Urban Land Institute, the minimum density needed for supporting light rail is 14,720 people per square mile. Based on the Federal Transit Adminstration’s Project Development Summary, the population density along the route is about 5,600 people per square mile.
9. Light rail does not move people where they want and need to travel. Census data shows that travel by car has increased over the last 50 years while all other options (transit, walking and carpooling) remained constant. Also, travel trends are increasingly suburb to suburb, and the “hub and spoke” system of light rail that’s currently proposed doesn’t address that.
8. Transit “development” takes tax dollars from other priorities. A lot of the housing being built along the Hiawatha line is happening because of government-issued bonds, tax credits, HUD and MetCouncil grants, and financing from city, county and state sources. Using tax dollars for development means there’s less money available for schools, public safety, parks and road maintenance.
7. Light rail will cost more than what they claim. The capital costs for rail are huge and usually underestimated in a way “that cannot be explained by error and is best explained by … lying.” Consider that Hiawatha’s costs increased from $470 million to $715 million. The cost estimate for a Bottineau LRT is currently $900 million. If the same cost overruns happen, it will end up costing almost $1.4 billion. For Southwest and its $1.25 billion estimate, the same cost overrun will be a staggering $1.9 billion.
6. Light rail won’t have as many riders as they claim. “Forecasters do a poor job of estimating the demand for transportation infrastructure projects. Studies show that “for nine out of ten rail projects, passenger forecasts are overestimated,” on average by 106%.
5. The demand for light rail is driven by special interests, not citizens. The strongest advocates for light rail are corporations, special interest groups and the Met Council. Polls use leading questions and omit key facts. The public comments on Southwest LRT represent about .4% of the population of the cities along the route.
4. Light rail will increase your property taxes. Hennepin County is expected to contribute 10% of the cost of the Bottineau light rail line. The county’s single source of revenue is property taxes. The portion dedicated to rail projects has tripled since 2009. The county will need to raise property taxes to pay the light rail bonds, which increases the burden for people on fixed incomes.
3. People with lower incomes will disproportionately bear the costs. There is currently a quarter-cent sales tax in the metro for transit. Governor Dayton has proposed tripling the transit sales tax AND expanding the sales tax base, exposing many previously exempted goods and services to the transit tax. Everyone knows that sales taxes are regressive and hit those with lower incomes.
2. Light rail is simply not worth the cost. In 1999, MNDOT conducted a cost-benefit analysis for the Hiawatha line. It considered the value of intangible benefits such as travel time savings, reduced crash risks and even air quality. The result was a ratio of 0.42, meaning for every public dollar spent, the entire community receives only 42 cents worth of benefits. We need options that return more value and benefit to more people instead of losing 58 cents of every public dollar.
1. There is a better option: Bus Rapid Transit (BRT). In August 2000, MNDOT recommended the “Northwest corridor” to “be given the highest priority for exclusive busway implementation.” As the Urban Land Institute said, “BRT can offer the look and feel of light rail service at substantially lower cost.” BRT is more flexible than light rail. It costs half as much to build. It is also cheaper to operate. In 2011, the operating subsidy was $1.39 for Hiawatha riders, but only $0.56 for I-35W BRT passengers.
Very simply, light rail costs too much, is inflexible, and better options exist. Perhaps the most insidious thing about light rail is that the costs fall disproportionately on those with fixed and limited incomes. You will pay for transit whether you ride it or not, so take action to make those costs as low as possible.