Pretty much everyone on the right has praised President Trump’s appointments, and what we have seen of his spending proposals looks good, too. Here in Minnesota, we are seeing a good example of the difference between the Trump administration and the Hillary administration we avoided. The subject is light rail transit.
Briefly, the powers that be have been trying to jam light rail transit down our throats for years. The cost is in the billions, and the trains hardly carry any riders, operating at huge losses. The latest proposed line is called Southwest Light Rail Transit (SWLRT). If it comes into being, it will only be because of nearly a billion dollars in federal funding, without which the project would be a non-starter. Which would be a good thing, since fixed rail transit is an obsolete technology that does nothing to relieve the Twin Cities’ highway congestion problems.
Just about everyone had given up, and was resigned to the idea that the SWLRT project would go forward. My organization, however, has continued to fight it, and it looks now as though our efforts may be successful. Tom Steward reports:
The Met Council always expected the Southwest Light Rail Transit line to be on the short list in Washington—the short list for $895 million in federal funding for construction. Instead, the controversial $1.9 billion project has suddenly popped up on a different list of transit projects that the Washington Post warns “could be out of luck under the Trump Budget.”
President Trump’s budget proposal zeroes out the New Starts program that funds light rail transit projects like SWLRT. “Future investments in new transit projects would be funded by the localities that use and benefit from these localized projects,” according to the budget blueprint.
What a radical idea!
As a result, a project that once seemed all but inevitable suddenly appears vulnerable, even to the rail line’s staunchest proponents at the Met Council.
The opening has led both state and federal elected officials to contact U.S. Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao to support the administration’s proposal to defund the New Starts program and SWLRT by extension.
“For years Congress has funded DOT programs like New Starts and, unfortunately, these funds have sometimes gone to projects with little merit,” Rep. Jason Lewis, R-Minn., wrote in a March 24 letter to Chao. “One such project was the Southwest Light Rail Transit (SWLRT) system in Minneapolis, MN.”
Chao also received a lengthy letter signed by 84 Republican Minnesota state legislators, blasting the Met Council for attempting to ram the controversial line through without broad public support.
Incredibly, the SWLRT project was slated to go through without ever having been authorized by the state’s legislature, and without any appropriation of state funds.
This is, in considerable part, why we elect Republicans: to kill foolish, money-wasting projects. Newspaper headlines, of course, are consumed with other matters. But quietly, under the radar, there are no doubt many similar examples of improved governance coming from the administration.