Skepticism spreads about $2 billion streetcar that will run slower than the bus already covering its route

Back in 2018, I asked “Why is the Ramsey County board going to waste up to $2 billion on a pointless streetcar?” This was in reference to the proposal “to spend up to $2 billion on a streetcar [running] from Union Depot to the airport and the Mall of America.” As I noted at the time, “the 54 bus already runs along exactly the proposed route” so why do we need this streetcar? In 2019, I noted that “The streetcar will serve fewer people than the 54 bus currently does” and that “will actually be slower than the bus.”

As I noted recently, this pointless proposal trundles on. Happily, people seem to be catching on. In the Pioneer Press last week, Frederick Melo reported on “new cost estimates and projected travel times” for “three options.” These options are:

• The bus rapid transit option includes capital costs of $121 million, without a full reconstruction of West Seventh Street and with an annual operating cost of $16.8 million. Travel would take approximately 40 minutes each way, compared to the 42 to 43 minutes the current Route 54 bus takes.

• Street car option No. 1 (center-running) would cost $2.1 billion and have an annual operating cost of $34 million. It would be a minute or two slower, one way, than the current Route 54 bus.

• Street car option No. 2 (side-running) would cost $2.12 billion and have an annual operating cost of $34.5 million. It would take roughly 45 minutes one way.

So, the cheap option — the bus rapid transit linking Union Depot and the Mall of America — would cost $121 million upfront and $17 million a year after that. At best, it would shave three minutes off the journey time currently offered by the 54 bus.

The expensive options — the two streetcars — would cost $2.1 billion upfront and $34 million annually after that. For this princely sum, you would actually add between one minute or five minutes to the journey time currently offered by the 54 bus.

Both state and local authorities in Minnesota are currently in the grip of a manic desire to build vastly expensive transit which offers poorer service than the options currently available and for which there is no great desire whatsoever beyond a handful of activists: the Northern Lights Express is another example. This stems from two things: One is the desire to save the planet and the other is the desire to try and turn Minnesota, and the Twin Cities especially, into Europe (partly in an attempt to save the planet). It won’t work, but government is the slowest of learners and will burn through a lot of your money learning that lesson.