The Green Beat

By Anna Waugh

As of Tuesday, five of seven of the Twin Cities metro area counties had voted yes to support a fourth of a cent increase in sales tax to support a broad based transportation bill. Hennepin, Ramsey, Anoka, Dakota and Washington counties have all voted in favor of the tax, opting into a Joint Power Association which will determine how the tax revenue will be spent. Scott and Carver counties voted no, but may enter on a later date.The tax is expected to raise more than $100 million per year in funds dedicated to transitways like the Northstar commuter rail and the Central Corridor light rail project that will run along University Avenue. Up to 1.25 percent of revenue will be dedicated to bicycle and pedestrian projects.

Already it has been a big year for transit in the Twin Cities. Partially fueled by the bridge collapse last summer, and partially due to ever increasing congestion, the legislature passed a 10 year $6.6 billion transportation bill at the end of February, overriding Gov. Pawlenty’s veto. The bill dedicated funds to bridge and road maintenance and construction – it also secured the additional funds for transit, which will allow bus ridership to double by 2020.

The sales tax passed this week was designed to take pressure off metro area residents by funding new transit lines, rather than having to increase property taxes. Previously, counties needed to raise 17 percent of capital costs for rail projects, that number has been lowered to 10 percent.

The Metropolitan Council’s transit plan has eight new dedicated transit ways planned to be completed by 2020, which will include new light rail, commuter rail, and high frequency bus. The light rail stop closest to Macalester will be at the corner of University and Snelling Avenues.

The 11-mile line is hoped to be completed by 2014, although some cost complications have so far kept the project from gaining approval from the Federal Transit Administration. Metro Council Chairman Peter Bell said in March that the project had a projected cost of $930 billion, but that the cost would realistically need to be reduced to $835 million to get the federal financing it needs. He said he hoped that the FTA would fund up to half of the central corridor project.

The 2008 Transportation Bill allows for the first increase in the state gasoline tax in 20 years, and an increase in licensing fees. The law also eliminates about 25 percent of the state’s $2.5 billion a year transportation budget shortfall.

Fifty-four years ago, Minneapolis and Saint Paul ripped out ninety-two miles of streetcar lines at a cost to the city of $27.5 million, deciding that bus transportation would be the best transit option for the future. Slowly, the city is reversing this decision and building new light rail lines moving again toward a comprehensive transit system.