A poorly planned park and ride facility in Newport that cost $6.45 million to build and sits empty just five years after opening won the third Golden Turkey Award, given by Center of the American Experiment. The Newport Transit Center edged out the Minneapolis City Council’s Violence Interrupter program in a web-based contest that attracted thousands of votes.
The Golden Turkey Award is a light-hearted contest to bring attention to the budget and allow Minnesotans to weigh in on the silliest spending of the year. Past winners include Gov. Tim Walz’s $6.9 million unused morgue and an extravagant rest stop on Highway 35.
“The problem with the Newport bus stop is that no busses actually stop there,” said John Hinderaker, President of Center of the American Experiment. “This project was doomed from the start with poor ridership numbers and when the pandemic hit, Metro Transit locked the door and stopped sending busses.”
The nominees for the Fall 2021 Golden Turkey Award:
Fourth Place: $261,000 to Train Eagles to Avoid Windmills
The Legislative-Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources (LCCMR) gives us another silly spending Golden Turkey nominee. This one is for a $261,000 grant to the University of Minnesota to design and implement a way to keep bald eagles from flying into wind turbines. In other words, we need to discover a noise annoying enough to scare bald eagles from their untimely demise at the hands of wind turbine blades moving up to 100 miles per hour.
Don’t get us wrong, the Golden Turkey award committee is full of bird lovers — we named our award after one, after all. But this approach is backward. The problem of bald eagles running into windmills is largely created by governments subsidizing the proliferation of windmills. Their application for grant funding begins with the claim: “Wind energy is a cost-competitive, clean energy source that offers benefits for Minnesota.” No, it isn’t.
Third Place: $6.2 Million for I-94 Land Bridge Project Development
What could possibly go wrong when government tries to “right past wrongs” and “make up for long-overdue social justice” with a $500 million project to build a half-mile land bridge over Highway 94 in St. Paul?
The Minnesota Legislature tucked $6.2 million into the 2021 Tax Bill for project development of a “land bridge freeway lid over marked Interstate Highway 94 in a portion of the segment from Lexington Avenue to Rice Street in St. Paul.” This massive construction project seeks to reconnect a neighborhood split apart by the construction of Highway 94 sixty years ago.
Runner-Up: $2.5 Million for Minneapolis “Violence Interrupters”
One of the most visible responses to the dramatic increase in violent crime in Minneapolis has been the city’s attempt to “interrupt” crime by hiring citizen groups to patrol the streets wearing bright-colored t-shirts. Grants to hire teams of well-meaning “violence interrupters” were awarded to seven local community organizations with a $2.5 million annual budget from the city council. Team members are paid $30 per hour and work five-hour shifts six nights a week patrolling the streets on foot.
In Minneapolis circa 2021, diverting $2.5 million a year from the police budget for anything that doesn’t involve arresting and prosecuting the people committing violent crimes is insane. This is why this expenditure was nominated for a Golden Turkey award.
And the Winner Is: the $6.45 Million Empty Newport Transit Center
For the first time, the Golden Turkey award committee allowed nominations from the public and Minnesotans did not disappoint with their ideas. The most popular category of the public nominees was wasteful transit projects such as the Rush Line in White Bear Lake or Southwest light rail in Eden Prairie. Representing all wasteful transit boondoggles, the Newport Transit Station wins the Fall 2021 Golden Turkey award.
The Newport Transit Station cost taxpayers $6.45 million and opened in November 2014. In July 2017 the Pioneer Press called it the “Hilton Hotel of bus stops” in an article titled “The east metro’s most expensive park-and-ride station is also the least used.” At that time, the Met Council boasted ridership of eight passengers a day on the bus line serving the Newport Transit Station. We could only dream of such high numbers today because in the post-COVID world, there are no busses serving this sprawling transit stop.
As in all of these transit projects, urban planners sitting in their office cubicles dreamed of “transit-oriented development” along the line to boost ridership and attract people to new high-density neighborhoods with coffee shops and brewpubs. Except commuters in Washington County, like every other suburban area served by the Met Council, like to drive cars and don’t work in the downtowns, especially post-COVID.
The bottom fell out of transit ridership during the pandemic and while highway traffic has returned to pre-COVID levels, the same cannot be said for busses and trains. Which leaves the Newport Transit Station with an empty 150-car parking lot and a Golden Turkey trophy.