The big news this week is that the planned Central Corridor LRT line will get three new stations between Minneapolis and Saint Paul, and the reason seems to be the new FTA rules which relax the sole focus on cost-effectiveness from travel time savings to include broader goals of “livability“. With the three new stations, the project would not have met a “medium” rating for cost-effectiveness, and therefore would not likely not have been funded by the FTA under the old rules.
What implication might this have for the planned Southwest LRT line and its contested route? It’s hard to say, but it certainly seems like the alternative routes should be re-assessed under the new formula before telling the feds that 3A is the Locally Preferred Alternative (LPA). More below the break.
Project planners say that ridership and travel time savings on 3A and 3C are very similar, and that the difference between the two is cost (capital, not operating cost). This seems to be exactly the type of situation that the Obama administration and the FTA had in mind with this rule change: projects for which a potentially less-desirable route or design was chosen, simply to meet CEI requirements. Decision-makers for Southwest LRT are on the record as saying they were constrained by the CEI, and one would hope they would be happy to be able to re-evaluate the route choices using a broader measure of benefits.
- Economic development
- Mobility improvements
- Environmental benefits
- Operating efficiencies
- Cost effectiveness
- Land use
(I would suggest that federal rule-makers consider accessibility improvements rather than just mobility, but perhaps this can be reflected in “land use”.)
The traditional cost-effectiveness for travel time measure remains in the mix, but is no longer the be-all, end-all. Again, what these changes will actually mean is still to be determined as part of a rule-making process, but if they can have such a big impact on Central Corridor, a project that is now in the engineering phase, it certainly seems like Southwest project planners should be taking a careful look at which route will score best under the new rules. Under at least one of the criteria, economic development, the 3A route is not looking nearly as promising lately, while the Uptown area remains a destination for business development, even during the worst recession since the Great Depression.
The LPA is not officially chosen until May of 2010, when the Met Council will amend its Transportation Policy Plan to include it. Before that happens, two public meetings will be held and a comment period will be opened to receive public comments on the LPA. According to the SW LRT website, the first meeting during which the comment period will be opened is February 24th. Now is the time to make sure that planners are thinking about the new funding guidelines.