BEST USE OF TAXPAYER DOLLARS - 2005
Hiawatha Line Light Rail
First a disclaimer: You can make a credible argument that the Hiawatha Light Rail project is something of a boondoggle. The 11-mile line cost a fortune ($715 million, or about 62 million per mile). There were gaffes in construction. Delays. Water leaks into the tunnel by the airport. And ever since it opened last June, the rail has hopelessly fouled the east-west automobile traffic crossing Hiawatha Avenue, thereby compounding the very plague it was meant to address. Truth be told, it probably would have been smarter to build an above-street grade rail, like Chicago's El. All that said, the Hiawatha Line has been a real success. It is fast, easy to use, and surprisingly pleasant. Ridership on the line is double the early projections, which is a very telling phenomenon. For all the Twin Cities' reputation for forward-thinking public policy, it has been a backwater in matters of transportation. Minnesotans are car-culture folk, and change from that will be slow and tedious. This is why the investment in the Hiawatha Line is so important. For all its faults and limitations, light rail has strengthened the case for the expansion of mass transit. Despite the current round of public transportation funding cuts, the success of the Hiawatha Line will ultimately spur future expansion of the system, dragging our fair cities into the 21st century. A final point: There is no better way to get to the airport from downtown Minneapolis than the Hiawatha Line. Aside, that is, from a stretch limo with wet bar. But that's the only exception.