Traffic Congestion Report Stirs Up Controversy

Billboard 35W & 494American Experiment’s report on the misguided government policies driving the Twin Cities traffic congestion crisis apparently hit a nerve at the metro area’s biggest Chambers of Commerce.  The Minneapolis and St. Paul Chambers struck back in a Star Tribune op-ed, Counterpoint: In the Twin Cities area, transit is needed and wanted–and it works.

Forty people going to work on transit are 40 fewer cars in front of you. That’s the physical fact. And a place with poor transit is a less attractive place to live, work and do business. That’s the business fact.

But big business has long supported spending billions on light rail lines that move a relatively miniscule amount of commuters for obvious reasons.  Development mogul Kelly Doran, for example, has invested more than $50 million in housing along the proposed Southwest Light Rail Transit line in Hopkins.

Forty percent of all workers in downtown Minneapolis use transit. Eighty percent of all people using transit in the Twin Cities are commuting to work or school. No study has ever found that reducing our transit options and putting thousands more cars on our roads would improve traffic congestion. People understand that. Poll after poll finds that people want more transit.

Business leaders also want more transit, because we understand that we need it, and it works.

Of course, the Center never suggested doing away with transit, just doing it smarter. A balanced approach that reflects the realities of how people get where they’re going.

Yet the Chambers left out the numbers that matter most to the bottom line of their members and overwhelming number of employees who commute to work.

Our report reveals that the cost of wasted time, wasted fuel and increased pollution from commuters, delivery drivers and other stuck in traffic totals nearly $4 billion a year.

That means in just one year, lost productivity and increased costs from congestion outstrip the supposed $2 billion to $5 billion in “net benefits from completing the transit system” and unspecified “high rate of return” loosely referred to in the Chambers’ op-ed.

The Chambers gloss over another inconvenient fact. Just six percent of Twin Cities commuters choose transit to get to work, while ninety percent of metro commuters depend on driving.

Yet the Met Council’s long-range plan–supported by the Chamber–calls for spending 83 percent of state and regional capital funds on expanding transit, while only eight percent of capital funds would be spent on road-related infrastructure.

It doesn’t seem to bother the business group that the lopsided imbalance in transportation spending only dooms Twin Cities commuters who work for their member companies to even more than the current 47 hours per year tied up in traffic.

But most cluelessly of all, the authors argue the Twin Cities worsening traffic congestion is a good thing, even a sign of success. In their world, congestion means more people prefer living in the Twin Cities than comparable cities like Indianapolis and Kansas City with more lane miles and less congestion. Never mind that Indianapolis has been growing twice as fast as the Twin Cities.

The CAE [Center of the American Experiment] wants us to be more like Kansas City, where you can drive around at high speed. There’s a reason Kansas City highways are empty: It’s not as attractive as we are, so its economy is weaker.

The authors may not be so smug if they were to reflect on the fact Minnesota loses population on net to other states year in and year out. Perhaps the worsening traffic congestion predicted down the road will slow some of them down.