Friday, September 15, 2006

Transit problems in the Twin Cities?!?

Transportation in and around the greater Minneapolis/St. Paul area within the next two decades is going to be a problem. With an expected growth of nearly 1,000,000 residents, they will live somewhere in the seven counties surrounding Minneapolis and St. Paul and will also have places to go including jobs, shopping, school, fun and leisure activities.

While the majority of people traveling to and from their daily doings plod along their SUVs and minivans today, that may need to change in the future as close to 1,000,000 more vehicles are added to the Twin Cities' roadways.

Now before you go off and think I'm saying no to building any more roads, shut the fuck up for a moment and finish reading this.

Building NEW roads is expensive. The new 4-lane U.S. highway 212, a 14 mile freeway stretching from Eden Prairie to its end in Carver, MN will cost over $175 million. That clocks in at $12.5 million per mile. Factor in eventual resurfacing in a decade or complete reconstruction in only a handful of decades and roads are far from cheap to construct. Another option is to add lanes to existing highways but that comes at a cost both in monetary terms and inconvenience during construction which makes a new highway look almost appealing.

Light Rail Transit (LRT), in comparison, has higher costs to start. The 12-mile Hiawatha Line from downtown Minneapolis to the Mall of America in Bloomington cost $715 million at its completion. That rounds out to approximately $59 million per mile or nearly five times as much per mile as a highway. However, LRT has far fewer associated costs. Occasional rail maintenance is far cheaper than highway repairs and maintenance. LRT also removes vehicles from the most congested highways which LRT follows thus reducing pollution and wear and tear on highways. It recoups at least some of its costs via fares charged to riders. Last year alone nearly 6 million riders walked thru the turnstiles onto the shiny yellow, gray and white trains.

The two modes work well in tandem. It has been said repeatedly that people cannot build their way out of congestion. As more lanes are added, more people flock to the newly expanded highways clogging them worse than they were previously.

If additional rail lines are constructed along the most congested highways, they will act as relief systems which eliminate commuter vehicles from highways and allowing for the more rapid transportation of goods via semi-trailer traffic. In the end it saves consumers money by increasing the speed which goods travel between points A and B.

In more sparsely populated areas, we can't eliminate highway improvements. LRT isn't a viable option and that makes roads feasible for expansion in those areas. If planned and executed both carefully and quickly, the area can handle 1,000,000 more residents with only minimal growing pains.

No comments: