Friday, November 09, 2007

When pork meets green 

I was at a meeting in Benton County Wednesday and much talk occurred around the idea that the county commissioners, after many years of supporting Northstar, had decided to pull the plug on paying for the Northstar Corridor, which was planned to extend to the county town of Rice north of St. Cloud.

On Tuesday, commissioners Wollak, McMahon and Duane Walter voted for the withdrawal, while Earl "Butch" Bukowski and Dick Soyka voted against it.

Benton County has spent more than $500,000 in the last 10 years on Northstar with "nothing to show for it," Wollak said. "When is enough, enough?" Wollak asked. The county should be addressing larger problems, he said, such as the need for road improvements and building space.

Wollak said many people are surprised to learn that there won't be trains running up and down the line all day, but only in the morning and evening. He noted that the feasibility study predicted that there would be just 20-30 riders getting on the train at Rice by 2030.

"The ridership forecast has not changed in 10 years," he said.

Now I've looked at demographic data for the area for some time, and Benton has perhaps the fastest growth of any place in the area, a relatively small county sitting in a growth beltway around the Twin Cities. But that growth might not be sufficient for Rice. Most of the people living in northern Benton County (as well as Morrison County to the north of Benton) come to work in St. Cloud, and would not likely take the train for that 13-mile commute.

But as Peter Gordon notes, getting riders off the roads and into buses and trains is always the goal of public transportation advocates.
[Last Saturday] morning's LA Times includes the latest installment of the "subway to the sea" discussion about extending the Red Line west to the beach (but not yet beyond). The existing Red Line is about 16-miles of guideway that cost $4.7 billion to build, serves just 115,000 riders per day and costs $78 million a year to operate (the last time I looked). I have reported many times that this amounts to a $323 million/year loss -- which shrinks to $286 million/year if the most optimistic non-rider benefit assumptions (reduced auto use) are added.

These details are never addressed in the discussion of whether to spend another $6 billion on the 6-7 mile extension. The Times' coverage does mention that current daily bus boardings along the route are 64,300 (or 34,900, depending on the alignment chosen). It also mentions that costs on the currently-under-construction "Expo" light-rail line are running 23% above budget.

When pork meets green, anything goes.
Including bike bridges.

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