Growth & Justice colleague Matt Kane posts about the recent decision to de-emphasize the cost-effectiveness index (CEI) in evaluating which transit projects are worthy of federal funding. The CEI, a rule set by the Bush Transportation Department, may have been well-intentioned. But it favored commuter routes running from the suburbs with fewer local stops over projects that served inner city residents and enabled different kinds of trips.
The decision does not mean more dollars become available for the Central Corridor Light Rail project, which cut several stops in St. Paul's less affluent neighborhoods in order to come in under the CEI limbo stick.
How might the decision affect the next Twin Cities transit project planned along the Southwest Transitway between Eden Prairie and downtown Minneapolis?
Last November, an advisory group unanimously selected a route, "3A," that bypassed the vibrant and densely populated (and well-served by bus) Uptown area. A member of the panel said. “I’m a supporter of 3A. It’s clearly the only choice financially.”
A look at the map shows why. 3A follows existing rail right of way for much of the route and avoids Central-Corridor-like construction through a busy urban neighborhood. It also practically guarantees a commuter route, since the Minneapolis stops run through some of the least populated areas of the city.
The 3A route does loop in the southern edge of North Minneapolis, which so far has been left out of the light rail development (and would have been bypassed with the Uptown option). Those three stops have been touted as potentially opening up reverse commutes to suburban jobs for transit-dependent North Minneapolis residents.
However, the Penn Avenue station appears to be more accessible to Kenwood residents, as the street is cut off by I-394 and the rail corridor, with no apparent direct bus connection to the proposed station possible from the north. Van White station may help redevelopment in the Basset Creek Valley area. The Royalston station stops near Target Field, which is closer to North Loop condo territory than the moderate and low-income areas of North Minneapolis.
The Met Council has a few steps to complete before the route is approved and forwarded to the Federal Transit Administration. I haven't seen yet whether the new ruling could have any effect on the proposed Southwest line.