Transit (a quick trip)
By Linda Jungwirth

The Metropolitan Council has predicted that the metro area will grow by 650,000 people by the year 2020, adding 2.4 million daily automobile trips to the highway system. This creates a need to study transportation alternatives and plan for the future.

In the fall of 1997, at the directive of the Minnesota Legislature, the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) initiated a study as to the feasibility of commuter rail service in the Twin Cities metropolitan area. Commuter rail is a passenger train service that operates on existing freight railroad tracks. Service operates primarily during peak travel times and stations are a minimum of 5 miles apart. The study objective was to determine if such service could be provided in a cost-effective manner, using selected freight railroad corridors throughout the metro area. Seven corridors, including a connector route between St. Paul and Minneapolis, have the highest potential for success based on costs and estimated ridership. These are Minneapolis to Bethel, Elk River, Northfield, and Young America, and also, St. Paul to Forest Lake and Hastings. MnDOT worked with community leaders to ensure a fair and objective study. Open house informational meetings were held for the public in each corridor. It was agreed that the project should be staged in phases in order to reduce initial capital costs and evaluate route performance. The study was completed in January 1999 and will be presented to the state legislature for review and direction regarding the next steps.

Another mode of transportation is Light Rail Transit (LRT). LRT uses electricity drawn from an overhead power line and travels at a maximum speed of 55 mph on its own right-of-way. LRT cars can operate individually or linked to form a train. Stops are less frequent than buses but more often than commuter rail. As with commuter rail, LRT works in conjunction with the Metro bus service to provide flexible transit service that meets people’s needs. The Metropolitan LRT Joint Powers Board, composed of 2 County Commissioners representing each of the 7 metro county Regional Rail Authorities, was created by the legislature to study the development of LRT and commuter rail for the region and to secure funding. Currently, there is a commitment to construct LRT in the Hiawatha Corridor between downtown Minneapolis, the airport, and the Mall of America at a cost of $446 million.

In the past year, Metro Transit bus system proved that increased service results in increased ridership. The goal is to continue improving reliability, speed, comfort, and safety while expanding to more locations. New suburban park and ride lots are proving successful. Dedicated transit ways created for bus use now could incorporate new technology. Pedestrian and bicycle friendly environments could be coordinated with transit and land use.

An advisory task force is nearing completion of a transit vision to be submitted to St. Paul and Ramsey County. Recommendations will be used as an advisory tool to fund, create, and promote a multi modal transit system which meets the needs of those who choose to use it as well as those who depend on it. (Janice is concerned about who pays and what it costs.)

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