The Streetcar Delusion: Minneapolis Receives Funding to Bolster Wasteful Rail Transit

Delusional Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood continues to flush taxpayer dollars down the toilet on increasingly idiotic rail programs. The latest example of LaHood’s anti-mobility pathology is the Department of Transportation funding two studies designed, as they always are, to bolster support for rail transit in the Minneapolis/St. Paul metro area.

The first study will look at a proposed streetcar corridor that would run along downtown Minneapolis’ Nicollet Mall, a dying commercial corridor that a string of mayors has attempted and failed to revitalize. Of course, this pattern hasn’t deterred current-Mayor R.T. Rybak, who probably wants a transit station named after him. The city council, being perpetually dominated by far-left goofballs of the Democratic-Farmer-Labor and Green parties, is more than happy to fund Rybak’s fantasies.

The second study is to examine transit options in a corridor running from Dakota County to St. Paul. This study will at least consider bus rapid transit in addition to wasteful streetcars. Hopefully, the huge operating subsidies required of streetcars will be prohibitively wasteful for Dakota County leaders to stomach, or at least make them fearful of awakening a rationally ignorant public.

There is hope that very little will come of these proposed transit lines. It was announced earlier this month that the north metro’s Northstar commuter rail line has fallen short of its ridership projections by 20 percent. Then there’s the 12.3-mile Hiawatha light rail line (to nowhere) that largely caters to and subsidizes the travel of wealthy businessmen who want to go from the airport to downtown, which was built at a cost of about $58 million per mile and costs $20 million per year to operate.

Then again, it seems as if a sizable minority of metro residents is perfectly content to pay for rail transit as long as it’s serving the interests of the billionaire owners of the Minnesota Twins and Vikings professional sports franchises. They are augmented by a brain-dead editorial board at the embarrassing Minneapolis Star Tribune that supports every rail project by default. In fact, the editors at the intellectually and financially foundering paper continue to support building a high-speed rail corridor that was supposed to connect the Twin Cities with Chicago, even though the federal government pulled funding from the Wisconsin segment of the proposed corridor and after the incoming governor had pledged to kill the project.

Minneapolis is not the only city to consider bringing back an archaic 19th century transportation option such as streetcars. Washington, D.C., is currently building a trolley line to serve yuppie bar-hoppers. Atlanta recently received a federal TIGER II grant for its downtown streetcar line. Portland has operated its infamous, expensive, silent-but-deadly streetcar line for years. And we’ve all seen Rice-A-Roni advertisements.

The fundamental problem with all of these projects, besides being fiscally wasteful, is that they fail to improve mobility. Why is that? Because they fail to address the most serious problem faced by our transportation sector: congestion. For example, backers of the Hiawatha line proudly tout the “success” of creating about 10,000 new daily transit riders. Of course, daily auto trips in the Twin Cities area increase by about 10,000 every two weeks. See the problem?

Moreover, transit authorities can’t even take care of their current rail infrastructure. Obama’s head of the Federal Transit Administration recently admitted that there is a $78 billion rail transit maintenance backlog. But as leading transportation scholar Randal O’Toole often notes, politicians prefer ”[cutting] ribbons over [sweeping] brooms.”