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Participants' Responses to This Interview Summary
Summary of Meeting with Scott Halstead
Civic Caucus, 8301 Creekside Circle, Bloomington, MN 55437
Friday, May 2, 2008
Guest speaker: Scott Halstead, member,
Shoreview Greening community, volunteer analyst of Central Corridor LRT
Present: Verne C. Johnson, chair;
Chuck, Clay, Paul Gilje, Jim Hetland (by phone), Jim Olson (by phone), and
Clarence Shallbetter (by phone)
A. Context of the meeting--The Civic
Caucus is reviewing the structure of highway and transit priority-setting
in Minnesota. During meetings on this subject several speakers have
addressed the proposed Central Corridor LRT line between downtown
Minneapolis and downtown St. Paul in Civic Caucus meetings. Scott
Halstead, one of some 800 Civic Caucus electronic participants, had
emailed his Central Corridor analysis to the Civic Caucus. He was
subsequently invited to a Civic Caucus interview to discuss the analysis.
B. Welcome and introduction--Verne and
Paul welcomed and introduced Halstead, a resident of Shoreview, who
recently retired from a 27-year federal career in several capacities,
including purchasing and contract management, with the U.S. Department of
Agriculture and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Upon retirement,
wanting to participate as a citizen in making a difference, he has served
as president of a federal retiree chapter, co-chair of Citizens Forum,
member of Shoreview Greening, an environmental and transit group, the
Shoreview Environmental Quality Committee, and the Citizens League.
C. Comments and discussion--During
Halstead's comments and in discussion with the Civic Caucus the following
points were raised:
1. The Shoreview Greening had concern about the
inadequate northeast suburban transit service--About a year
ago, they requested someone to look at the Central Corridor LRT proposal,
to learn the process of obtaining rapid transit, so we could advance
transit in the northeastern part of the metro area, Halstead said. It
quickly became apparent that the Central Corridor didn't seem to be a wise
transit investment of $900 million, given the fact that the corridor
already is well-served by bus transit, that 75 percent to 90 percent of
Central Corridor riders will come from existing bus service and that the
Central Corridor LRT would be very slow and not extendable.
2. Absence of Central Corridor LRT speed--Initial
planning documents that Halstead said he received estimated an LRT ride of
approximately 35 minutes between the two downtowns. However, as he pieced
together details he found that the actual ride would take approximately 45
minutes. Moreover, many express buses that now provide a 30-minute ride on
I-94 between the downtowns would be removed from service, with passengers
expected to take LRT instead. Some express riders might forego switching
to LRT if they're unable to take advantage of speed on I-94.
He said he has submitted his material to the Metropolitan Council and has
received no statistical rebuttal.
3. Review of current transit service in the
Central Corridor--The Central Corridor has what might be
considered the best bus service in the metro area, Halstead said:
--Route 16 buses on University Avenue, running every eight to 10 minutes
during peak hours, and stopping at every block. This route serves about
4.7 million passengers a year, many of whom are taking rides of three
miles or less and then transferring to other routes.
--Route 50 express buses on University Avenue, with about 1.3 million
passengers a year.
--Route 94 express buses on I-94 paralleling University Avenue with about
1.1 million passengers a year.
In further discussion it was noted that because of such heavy activity,
bus service along University Avenue currently is among the most cost
effective in the Twin Cities area with up to 70 percent of operating
expenses being recovered from the fare box. Fares yield about 30 percent
of such expenses system wide. Several different destinations are served,
downtown St. Paul, the Midway area, the University of Minnesota, and
4. Difficulty in running the LRT down the middle
of University Avenue--About six more traffic signals will be
added to some 34 signals already on the route, and LRT trains will not
over-ride the signals. Traffic signals are needed so that passengers may
safely cross University from either side to reach the LRT trains in the
middle, as well as to allow vehicles to go back and forth on the cross
streets. Traffic signals will hold down speed, of course. But safety of
passengers will also be at risk because University Avenue passengers will
be required to walk across to get to the LRT stations.
5. Inconvenience of less-frequent stops--University
Avenue buses now pick up passengers every block. The LRT line will pick up
passengers every half-mile or longer, which will require some riders to
walk three to six blocks more to get to a station. Such steps at best
would inconvenience some persons and at worst would deter them from
riding, he said.
6. Inadequate attention to operating expenses--Most
of the public attention has been focused on an estimated $900 million in
capital expense, one-half of which is anticipated to be received from the
federal government. However, there's been very little attention to
operating expenses, he said.
Slow LRT vehicles on the Central Corridor means slower travel time for
riders, which inevitably increases the cost per rider per trip and the
operating costs he said. Halstead said he has had considerable difficulty
obtaining reliable LRT performance data and bus ridership data.
Projections of operating expenses on the Central Corridor exceed the bus
system. Advocates for the project seem reluctant to face the question of
calculating long term costs and negative impacts upon others, he said.
It was noted that a true picture of projected operating expenses and the
portion funded from the fare box in the Central Corridor needs to include
the three or four bus lines that will continue or will be added.
7. Removal of parking on University Avenue--To
maintain two lanes of regular vehicle traffic on University in addition to
the LRT line, it will be necessary to remove about 675 parking spots along
University Avenue, where on-street parking no longer will be allowed, he
said. Businesses will definitely be affected, and land for off-street
parking as a replacement doesn't seem to be available. It doesn't appear
as if the expense of replacing the parking spots is included in the cost
estimates for the Central Corridor. Expenses for other forms of
re-development including land acquisition for housing or retail/commercial
or any incentives for re-construction or densification also need to be
8. Difficulty in crossing the Mississippi River--Current
plans call for the Central Corridor to use Washington Avenue and the
existing Washington Avenue bridge through the University of Minnesota.
(The University is suggesting an alternate route to the north.) The
Washington Avenue bridge is 52 years old and will need to support two-car
or three-car LRT trains running in both directions, adding as much as one
million pounds to the bridge. Such additional weight will undoubtedly
require more reinforcement on an already 52-year-old structure, he said.
LRT ridership would decline significantly if LRT doesn't penetrate the
heart of the University of Minnesota by following Washington Avenue, a
member observed. Costs soar when tunneling is involved, the member said.
9. Halstead's preferred approach--Halstead
said he'd prefer a south route adjacent to I-94 or a north route along
already-existing rail tracks between Minneapolis and St. Paul, along with
tunneling under the University of Minnesota, possibly as far as Hwy. 280.
A high speed connection between the two downtowns is essential for a
successful rail system, he said. If the connection is fast, then in the
future one can imagine spokes to the east, north and south. If the
connection is slow, a worker from Woodbury on the east, with a destination
in downtown Minneapolis, is not likely to tolerate a slow link, having
already ridden a faster LRT spoke from Woodbury to downtown St. Paul. The
Central Corridor connection needs to be the fastest link, not the slowest,
he said. We should be looking ahead 60-70 years, he said.
10. Question of penetrating the middle of the downtowns-- LRT
trains from the Central Corridor will share the 5th Street rail line in
downtown Minneapolis with the Hiawatha line, which will add about seven
trains in each direction each hour in downtown Minneapolis, he said.
Halstead noted that the Denver LRT follows the freeways and exclusive
railroad right of ways which provide people with a fast ride and a good
alternative to driving alone on a congested freeway. The LRT that enters
downtown Denver, makes a short trip and loop downtown with free shuttle
buses on the 16th mall. He contended that short routes or tunneling
provide faster, lower cost service in the long run than trying to bring
the LRT line longer distance at street level into the middle of the
11. Current transit decision-making structure is
faulty--Halstead said he doesn't think the 2008 Legislature
should have separated rail and bus transit policy between the counties and
the Metropolitan Council. He said he supports a unified structure for
highways and all transit.
12. Invest more resources--The Twin
Cities area should invest more dollars to build the right kind of LRT
system, Halstead said. He noted that riders pay by zones from $1.75 inner
city up to $4 to ride the system in Denver, which is a considerably higher
fee than is imposed here. Their sales tax also is higher than ours.
Halstead favors an employment-based income tax surcharge or a parking tax
as ways to provide revenue for metro area roads and transit.
13. Requiring landowners to share the expense--A
Civic Caucus member asked whether landowners near the LRT line will
receive all the benefit of increased value without having to share the
expense. Halstead said he agrees that such landowners could legitimately
be required to pay a share.
14. Question of insufficient transit capacity--It
was noted that Peter Bell, chair of the Metropolitan Council, has said
that without the Central Corridor LRT there won't be enough transit
capacity in the corridor to accommodate demand in the year 2030. Halstead
said that Bell probably is right in connection with the need for transit
in the University of Minnesota area and in downtown Minneapolis, but not
all along University Avenue.
15. High-speed transit needed in Central Corridor--Not
wanting to be misunderstood, Halstead said the he strongly favors light
rail in the Central Corridor, but it must be fast to work. The current
proposal involves spending a great deal of money and receiving very little
in return. He thinks it would be very possible to build a high speed LRT
system on existing rail right-of-way located north of University Avenue or
adjacent to I-94 between the two downtowns. In fact, he said, the
Metropolitan Council envisions commuter rail in that area by the year
2030, in addition to light rail on University Avenue. We should build one
good rail transit system with capacity can be increased and the line
extended, he said.
He repeated his feeling that recovering funds from benefiting property
owners and a parking tax should be considered as revenue sources.
16. Thanks--On behalf of the Civic
Caucus, Verne thanked Halstead for meeting with us today.