The largest public works project in Minnesota’s history (as long as you don’t combine the segmented construction of any metro-area freeway) recently kicked into high gear, but it’s possible it won’t hold the crown for long. The Bullet Factory Vikings stadium proposal has a base cost of $884m, plus around $173m for “on-site infrastructure, parking, [and] environmental needs” – and in addition there are $131-240m in highway improvements needed to handle the traffic that would be drawn to the site. That’s a grand total of $1.2-1.3b for the Bullet Factory site, although there it’s also possible still that the Metrodome site would be reused instead, which apparently isn’t pricey enough to steal Central LRT’s crown of costliness.
Free marketeers like to pretend that it’s just a coincidence that our era is seeing unprecedented wealth simultaneously with unprecedented suffering (while middle-class Americans pretend that neither exists), but we need to recognize that money is a fuel that feeds a firestorm of inequality that spreads a smoke blanket of starvation. Government may not be the best tool we have to fight this process, but it certainly is the biggest tool we have. The USA is a nation where Christians decry the spending of their tax dollars on foreign aid, so it shouldn’t be a surprise if we decide to spend a billion dollars on houses for millionaires in tights while thousands of Minnesotans sleep in their cars or under bridges…
…and so on. I went on a similar rant when the Twins stadium deal went down, but I have to admit that I’m happy with it now that it’s up and running. Why? Besides a fondness for monumental public structures, I like to go to the library on Mondays. The bonuses involved probably got some politicians on board for that project, support it desperately needed.
So why isn’t Ramsey County sweetening the pot with its Bullet Factory plan? Certainly the plan is ambitious enough, but it’s also missing support from many Ramsey County politicians. Maybe they’d get on board if the plan included youth sports, libraries, or…. here it comes…. transit!
Mulad recently had a great post about rail lines to the Bullet Factory that could be upgraded to commuter rail for the stadium. A dedicated rail line to a suburban sports complex isn’t unprecedented in this country, but is certainly unusual. Given the “uncertainties” surrounding the Twin Cities’ only commuter rail line, that mode seems unlikely.
But I was intrigued by Mulad’s idea of “a light-rail-sized diesel multiple-unit (DMU) train could run along the Central Corridor and diverge when it hit the UMN Transitway, then do a flyover to get past the heavy rail operations at Union Yard, and then run on heavy rail tracks.” I hadn’t really considered that corridor for transit upgrades, but it does after Mulad pointed it out, I noticed that it does run between two major employment clusters (Rosedale and Mid-City), and although there isn’t much residential along it, what’s there is pretty dense.
Here is a chart showing how Mulad’s corridor (which I named Hunting Valley after the old name for 280, shown in green on the map) compares with two other nearby possible corridors (I named the Central Ave NE alignment New Boston after a name for the Central & Lowry area that no one has used for almost a century, because unfortunately the name Central Corridor is already taken – why didn’t they call it the Midway Corridor?). These are totals from TAZ districts that adjoin the lines depicted on the map, and the numbers are from 2000, and have changed a bit (also I only used those TAZes north of the Central Corridor, or the river in the case of the New Boston line).
Obviously the Hunting Valley is hurting for population, but it holds its own in terms of employment (although none of these corridors do very well in that measure – the Central Corridor even excluding Downtown Minneapolis reaches 120,000 jobs). Plus it has the advantage of being much cheaper than New Boston or Snelling, since it is mostly already built on exclusive right-of-way (there is the small matter of buying out the MNNR, but theoretically the track could be rented back to them for night use). Even though Hunting Valley wouldn’t need as frequent service as Hiawatha or Central, 5th St probably couldn’t handle the additional trains – my understanding is that it can only handle a slight increase in frequency on Hiawatha and/or Central.
Anyway I doubt if anyone could handle the pucker-inducing degree of sweetness that adding a light rail line would bring to this deal – even the relatively cheap Hunting Valley line would probably cost too much for belt-tightening times. A more affordable sweetener for the stadium pot would be an upgrade of bus service in St Paul, including upgrading the 84 possibly to BRT-ish levels. The western triangle of St Paul has the density for good bus service, but has only a smattering of routes running across it, and those at low frequencies. My guess is that comes out of the bus routes’ archaic orientation toward Downtown St Paul, and I’ll deal with that issue in a later post.
There are a lot of ways to handle a beefed up Snelling BRT, and I’m not going to weigh in on any particular one, except to advocate that it go south to the airport instead of west to the 46th St Hiawatha station. That adds a few miles to the route, but also thousands more jobs, as well as the obvious connections to air routes. The northern terminus in this scenario would of course be Zygi’s Sprawl City, and it would also hit the job cluster at Hamline & 694, which is amazingly suburban but still might draw some riders.
Though Minneapolis would look with envy at Snelling’s 100 foot width through most of St Paul, it might be politically difficult to create bus lanes here, especially in the parking-desperate Midway. I’m not sure it would be necessary though – despite heavy volumes, I haven’t seen a lot of congestion on Snelling in St Paul proper. It would be interesting to see what effect a higher frequency 84 with prominent stations and off-board payment would do to traffic levels on the street.
Fittingly, since the funding for this BRT sweetener would come from an ongoing tax (presumably added onto the sales tax) most of the money could go to operations in the form of higher frequency on the 84 (and the 21, to fill the hi frequency gap). I’m not even going to guess how much this would cost, but I would think less than the Cedar BRT where $135m is buying 8 park-and-rides and 9 miles of “dedicated” shoulders. Here is a list of the capital needs I can think of for a Snelling BRT, in the order they arrive to my head:
- 2 to 4 park-and-rides Possibilities include at 36 (or Cty Rd B), Cty Rd C, Cty Rd E and 694 (or Cty Rd F); these would all be modest park-and-rides since they wouldn’t draw Downtown crowds.
- Stop consolidation With routes spaced at every mile, I can’t in good conscience advocate 1/4 mile spacing, although there would still be opportunity for consolidation in some places. Eventually, there should be bus routes running north and south every half-mile, at which point stops should be consolidated to every 1/4 mile.
- Enhanced stations These would primarily serve branding purposes since there probably wouldn’t be enough of them to ensure quality or comfort at every stop. But at transfer stops, they could include ticket machines and real-time displays, in addition to higher-quality architecture. At Como and Energy Park there should be stairs and elevators to the below-grade intersecting streets.
- Signal Preemption I haven’t heard the results of the route 10 test with signal preemption, but in theory it make the travel time more competitive with cars.
I in no way advocate building a football stadium with taxpayer money – local TV stations are subsidized enough through their undervalued broadcasting permits. But if it must be done, throw a little sugar in that bowl by improving Ramsey County’s transit along with its sports facilities. Don’t forget – there are some citizens of Ramsey County who will pay for that stadium with every purchase they make, but won’t be able to even gaze on it without a car. Every Minnesotan should be able to enjoy the biggest public works project in Minnesota history.