Think Tank Calls For Moratorium On Light-Rail

Think Tank Calls For Moratorium On Light-Rail

The Center of the American Experiment, a conservative group, says lawmakers should focus transit spending on improving roads and bridges.

One month after the Green Line light-rail began operation, and just as plans are proceeding for the Southwest light-rail, a conservative think tank has released a new report calling for a moratorium on future light-rail projects and arguing that transit policy should focus on roads and bridges instead.

On Thursday, the Center of the American Experiment, a Golden Valley-based organization that advocates for conservative and free market principles, released its 14-page report at an event hosted by the St. Cloud Area Chamber of Commerce. The group plans to have nine other “issue-related events” this year—each of which will contain legislative recommendations that will serve as chapters in a book called The Minnesota Policy Blueprint: Prescription for Prosperity, to be published in December.

The transportation paper was written by Fritz Knaak, a local attorney and former state senator, and Amy Roberts, vice president and general counsel at Connolly Kuhl Group, a St. Paul-based PR firm focused on public policy.

The authors state that “efficient road traffic fuels Minnesota’s economic engine and is essential to job creation and improving quality of life for all Minnesotans.” But they claim that policy makers “remain stubbornly committed to rail transit, despite the fact that rail transit is extraordinarily expensive, time consuming to ride, and set on a fixed track that cannot flexibly connect people to jobs.”

The paper argues that the nearly $1.7 billion price tag for the Southwest light-rail would be better spent on improving “more flexible and less costly transit options,” such as bus rapid transit. (The Metropolitan Council has recently backed plans for a new rapid transit bus line.)

The paper calls for a moratorium on future light-rail projects, stating that halting such projects would provide more time for collecting evidence about their impact.

The group also says the state should dedicate 0.25 percentage points (a quarter-cent of the tax on each dollar spent) of existing state sales tax toward road and bridge maintenance and expansion. That would shift about $182 million of the $5 billion currently generated by the sales and use tax to transportation, the group said.

Find the full report, which includes some more detailed dollar figures tied to the group's recommendations, here.

Light Rail Moves Forward

The conservative think tank's paper was released less than a month after the Green Line light-rail began service between the downtowns of Minneapolis and St. Paul. Out of the gate, that line began exceeding ridership goals, according to the Metropolitan Council.

And while the Southwest light-rail line, which will connect Minneapolis and Eden Prairie, has sparked significant debate, and its initial price tag ballooned significantly, the project is proceeding. Earlier this week, Metropolitan Council Chair Susan Haigh and Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges announced a tentative agreement on how to move forward. Their plan would put the cost around $1.65 billion.

Subsequently, four cities on the route approved the deal that Minneapolis struck with the transit planners.

Late last year, Twin Cities Business sat down with Mitch Pearlstein, founder and president of the Center of the American Experiment, for its “Interview Issue.” Read the full Q&A here.