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Wednesday, August 25, 2004

Crosstown Commons and Municipal Consent

According to published reports, the city of Minneapolis is planning on withholding its consent to the I-35W/Crosstown Commons construction project. It is holding out for Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) to be integrated into the construction so that a BRT line can be started between downtown Minneapolis and Lakeville along I-35.

This is a very complicated issue. Unlike some liberals, I have nothing against highway construction. You would not have seen me protesting the Highway 55 reroute, for example. Minneapolis and Saint Paul had many more highways planned than were actually built, and I think that some highways, such as I-335, should have been built instead of tabled. Furthermore, I definitely think that problem areas need to be corrected. The Crosstown Commons is one of the worst in the country (the probably apocryphal story about how it was designed is that it was drawn on a napkin in the 1960s as a solution that was acceptable to both Minneapolis and Richfield). It needs to be fixed, and the sooner the better. So do the I-35E/I-694 commons, the I-694/10/51 interchange, the I-35W/I-494 interchange, and many others. For safety, environmental, and economic reasons, we need good highways.

At the same time, we need transit. Yes, most people drive cars, and that's why we can't ignore our highways. At the same time, we need to do more to get people out of their cars and into other options. BRT is a good option with a relatively low level of investment. It is far cheaper to put 60 people on one bus than it is to pave enough lanes to allow those 60 people to drive individually. It's better for the environment too. I have no problem with Minneapolis demanding that BRT be a part of the construction plan. Minneapolis has the most traveled freeway segment in the state, and they have to deal with the consequences. Obviously, they are seeking to minimize the negatives.

I don't know enough about the municipal consent law to know if this will work. I am pretty sure that projects can't be stopped, just delayed. One suggested alternative is that Minneapolis give its consent with a "promise" that the legislature will deal with BRT. Given how little the legislature did this year, the city is understandably cool to that idea. I don't fault them at all for wanting something a bit more concrete, pardon the pun, than a promise that the legislature will look at it.

Construction isn't slated to start until 2006, so there is still time to figure something out. I hope that this project goes forward as soon as possible and that transit is integrated into it. That is the best solution for everybody involved.

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