Thursday, January 17, 2008

A Call For Leadership

President Bruininks, Are You Listening?

Blowing smoke and talking about how good things are going to be in ten years is one thing, but in the here and now hard decisions have to be made.

Some comments from the Pioneer Press on the light rail situation:

In the here and now, the Central Corridor light-rail project as it's desired is too expensive. The Metropolitan Council, charged with managing the project according to the rules that make it eligible for federal funding, has been clear, consistent and persistent on that point. A project that starts at the back of the Union Depot in downtown St. Paul and eventually tunnels under the University of Minnesota on its way to downtown Minneapolis would cost around a billion dollars. To be eligible for federal funding - for half the cost of the project - the price tag needs to come down to about $840 million, says Peter Bell, chairman of the Met Council [and a former U of M regent].

In the here and now, rules are rules.

Decisions about travel routes, whether they're rail lines or roads, don't merely reflect reality - they also alter it. The rules by which those decisions are made are inherently political - they reflect a decision to value some things more than others. The current formula for deciding whether a transit project is worthy of federal funding values what's known as the cost-effectiveness index most of all. By that index, we can't afford a billion-dollar light-rail line between downtown St. Paul and downtown Minneapolis.

So something has to give, and, by the reckoning of the Metropolitan Council - which, again, is charged with following the rules as they exist - there's a long way to go and a short time to get there. Unless manna falls from the heavens, everyone is going to have to give up part of what he or she wants for the greater good of getting the St. Paul-to-Minneapolis line built.

But suggesting that we're staring at a death match featuring The Union Depot vs. The University Tunnel is oversimplifying things. We don't claim to know what all the other variables are. Different people see them differently.

If the Central Corridor is to move forward, after decades of planning and arguing, everybody and their variables need to be at the table. Forthright, creative people solve problems. For the sake of the here and then, forthright problem-solving is what's needed. Here and now.

Mr. Bonzo asks again:

Are you listening, President Bruininks?

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