Crosstown Project: A Smokescreen for Transit Cuts?

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Crosstown Project: A Smokescreen for Transit Cuts?

The news came in the form of a press release from MnDOT that Carol Molnau, Governor Pawlenty's "Transportation Czar," had "accepted" a plan to rebuild Minnesota Highway 62. Depending on who you talked to, Molnau either agreed to the recommendations by an appeals board, or was forced to accept them in the name of good PR. Either way, the longrunning battle over the so-called Crosstown Project finally ended with a truce, or so it seemed.

Both MnDOT and Minneapolis city leaders claimed victory, though one account in the PiPress reported that the recommendations by an appeals board proved the city had been "overruled." Either way, some observers couldn?t help but see politics at play.

?There?s a piece going on here with cutting services and hiking bus fares,? says Sean Wherley, a transit activist from the south Minneapolis neighborhood to be most affected by the project, Kingfield. By Wherley?s estimation, Molnau, who is also the state's lieutenant governor, is saving face for Pawlenty and the Met Council, which is considering slashing service and raising rates for Metro Transit in what has become a yearly ritual. ?This way,? says Wherley, ?they can all look like they really care about transit.?

To recap: MnDOT has wanted to revamp Highway 62 for years, especially where the road meets Interstate 35W. As anyone who drives around town surely knows, the gridlock there, with some 100,000 cars a day, is a major problem. Last fall, MnDOT and Molnau revived the issue, and Minneapolis balked at the $240 million project. The city refused to give "municipal consent" unless a number of criteria were met.

The main sticking point was the idea of Bus Rapid Transit (?BRT? in transit parlance), which dedicates lanes for bus use only. Minneapolis, led by State Rep Frank Hornstein, Mayor R.T. Rybak and City Council member Scott Benson, successfully stalled the project. An appeals board looked at the plan slated for 2006. The recommendations offered up yesterday really conceded only one thing to Minneapolis: That the project include funding for a transit station at 46th Street and I-35W.

?They got their bus station at 46th and not much else,? Wherley offers. ?There?s nothing in there for funding a transit station at Lake Street. And they?re not really addressing the environmental impact. They say the have it in the plan, but it?s not really addressing many problems.?

And, ultimately, says Wherley, the state has not guaranteed anything related to BRT. ?It?s strange, because there?s spin coming from the department and the city on this. It?s a victory if you like more roads, but a failed plan if you want to get people out of their cars and onto mass transit,? Wherley argues. ?You?re talking $240 million for 13 lanes of traffic in some parts. At the end of the day, it will look like Spaghetti Junction, where 35 and [I-94] meet. And that?s a nightmare.?

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