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Archive for the ‘Transportation’ Category

Kim Crockett’s post about her recent trip to our nation’s capitol focused on the work that the Center for the American Experiment is doing to thwart the Met Council’s Thrive 20240 blueprint.

In her post, Ms. Crockett wrote that “DFL Governor Mark Dayton’s plan, like many ‘blue state’ governors, uses ‘transit oriented development’ or TOD, to pull money out of the suburbs and greater Minnesota to fund and re-enforce a city centric power model. That model shifts how and where people live, and how they get around, to change the political landscape in favor of left-wing control of local and state government. If ‘Thrive’ succeeds, we will effectively lose self-governance at the local, and even state, level in favor of unelected bureaucrats.”

First, the Met Council’s transportation blueprint is outdated. Next, it isn’t based on listening to the communities and residents it’s supposed to represent. Third, the Met Council’s transportation blueprint ignores the fact that the American people don’t want to get herded like cattle into a one-size-fits all transportation blueprint.

With more people being able to work from home and with more people buying their things from Amazon, E-Bay, Craigslist and other online outlets, the need for transit is waning, not waxing. While Al Gore hates urban sprawl, the American people apparently have voted with their mortgages in favor of spreading out.

Then there’s this:

These TOD plans rely on crony capitalism to thwart citizen opposition to these billion-dollar boondoggles. There are construction and engineering firms and armies of lawyers and consultants, lined up to take their cut of the $2 billion for SWLRT. And that is just the start: then comes Bottineau LRT and others. They press their case with help from the business chambers and K-Street lobbyist here and in D.C.

Here in St. Cloud, we’re fighting against extending the Northstar rail project from Big Lake to St. Cloud. While extending Northstar isn’t as high-profile of a project as building SWLRT is, it’s still built on the same central planning crony capitalist principles.

Another thing that SWLRT and Northstar have in common is that they’re massive wastes of the taxpayers’ money. After construction, they’ll still need massive operating subsidies. Think about that. Northstar isn’t making money. It never will. Extending it from Big Lake to St. Cloud just adds to the money the special interests will need to take from taxpayers. SWLRT is no different. Before explaining that statement, I’d suggest that you watch this video:

As you watch the video, count how many different pieces of infrastructure have to be built before SWLRT is operational. Then think of how many people will use SWLRT vs. how many will continue to use the highways and city streets. (You can make the same comparison with Northstar.) SWLRT and Northstar aren’t solutions to Minnesota’s transportation problems. They’re impediments to the solutions.

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Living on St. Cloud’s East Side my entire life, I’ve grown skeptical of city plans to redevelop St. Cloud’s East Side. When Mayor Kleis starts talking about redeveloping the East Side, I get extra skeptical. In this article, Mayor Kleis outdid himself. The article says that “The biggest redevelopment boon would be a Northstar line extension”, adding that that “would be the single greatest catalyst for East Side development.” The station where Northstar would stop at is less than a half-mile from my house. Anyone that thinks that that’s a catalyst to redeveloping St. Cloud is either lying or stupid.

When Kleis said that this “is doable, and the Legislature can do that,” my first reaction was to ask what type of drugs he was using. The East Side of St. Cloud will forever be a blue collar part of town. Within a quarter mile of that train stop are Red’s Electric, Val’s, Handyman’s, a couple junk yards, one of which was abandoned 5 years ago, an old brick building that looks like it’s been abandoned for 50 years and a day-old bread store. The frightening thought is that that’s the upscale part of the area.

To do anything retail- or office-related there would require tens of millions of dollars to just make a dent. Then the question becomes what would go into this real estate. Here’s the reply:

The plan recommended the city encourages artisan workshops and artist residences to move into the district by establishing incentives for redeveloping “make/live” space for artists and organizations.

Seriously? This is proof that this city desperately needs new leadership. To show how unserious this plan is, consider this information:

But East Side redevelopment captured only about one page of the document, which is upward of 160 pages. The plan’s catalyst sites were mostly near downtown on the west side of the river.

Then there’s this quote from Mayor Kleis:

The river flows through our city. It doesn’t divide the east and the west.

Actually, Dave, the Mississippi does divide the city. It has since I was born 61 years ago. This is the view looking east down East St. Germain Street:

In less than a mile, there are 2 major sets of railroad tracks as you look east. There are 2 other railroad crossings if you look north from St. Germain. As you pass Lincoln Ave. heading east, there’s a mix of a gas station, some homes and Highway 10.

If you think that I’m being a bit pessimistic, consider the fact that that’s before we talk about fixing the properties on Lincoln Ave. north of East St. Germain St. If you don’t fix that, you’ve just spent a ton of money without fixing the East Side’s problems.

What’s needed is to admit that the East Side is best suited for industrial redevelopment. Putting in cute apartments and retail shops might look nice for a couple of years but it won’t fix the underlying problem. Getting a fistful of federal grant money to put in a few cute amenities won’t change that fact.

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After writing this post about a proposal to increase affordable housing in the Greater St. Cloud area, I got a call from a loyal reader of LFR. This person highlighted the fact that St. Cloud’s economy used to be built around manufacturers like Franklin and big corporations like Fingerhut. This reader then mentioned the fact that St. Cloud’s economy today is focused on the hospitality and retail industries.

In the past, St. Cloud has made terrible choices for its economy. The Chamber of Commerce shouldn’t get off lightly, either, since they’ve frequently advocated for tourism industry bonding projects. In the end, those things changed St. Cloud from being a blue collar manufacturing town into a tourism mecca. That’s foolish because there are thousands of different tourism meccas in Minnesota.

In Jenny Berg’s article, she wrote that “Hontos said he wants a joint resolution to show interest from other cities.” He might get that resolution passed by the St. Cloud City Council but it’ll die the minute it gets to the Sartell and Sauk Rapids city councils.

Since this affordable housing project started getting publicity, talk has started about voting on a moratorium that would postpone the building of bike trails and city parks until St. Cloud attracts 5 new manufacturing companies to St. Cloud.

The liberal policies that’ve caused St. Cloud’s neighborhoods to deteriorate have led to rising crime rates, too. Mind you, many of these crimes haven’t gotten recorded but they’ve still happened. They’ve been reported. They just haven’t been recorded. We’re left with a city whose economy is like icing on a cake but without a main meal. Economies built around retailers and restaurants are like meals consisting of cake and ice cream but no meat, potatoes or gravy.

Other citizens have told me that getting things approved for construction has gotten more difficult. The City has the right official policies. They just aren’t enforced. The reason I mention this is simple. Why would a major company move to St. Cloud when crime is rising, there’s a shortage of the type of laborers that companies will need and the local economy is built around the hospitality and retail industries?

Dave Kleis has been one of the biggest cheerleaders for these policies. He’s also the chief cheerleader for the airport. He could’ve killed 2 birds with 1 stone by proposing an industrial park built right by a new regional airport. That would have a chance of gaining traction and changing the trajectory of St. Cloud’s economy. That proposal hasn’t been rejected. It’s been ignored instead.

Frankly, it’s time for new leadership in St. Cloud. St. Cloud needs someone who a) isn’t a de facto cheerleader for the Chamber of Commerce, b) doesn’t believe in crony capitalism and c) has a vision to restore St. Cloud’s identity as a blue collar All American city. I’d clean out most of the members of the City Council. I’d pretty much fire the School Board. Finally, I’d fire the SCSU president, too. It’s clear he doesn’t have a plan to turn SCSU around.

Mayor Kleis talks about reviving St. Cloud’s core neighborhoods. Those don’t get built or maintained by restaurant owners.

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Preya Samsundar’s article on the SWLRT line is informative from the standpoint of how intent Gov. Dayton’s political appointees are in spending the taxpayers’ hard-earned money on another light rail boondoggle.

Ms. Samsundar writes “Southwest Light Rail will begin construction, despite a decision by the federal government to rescind federal funds. MPR reports that the new Met Council Chair, Alene Tchourumoff, plans to start construction on the newest addition to Minnesota’s light rail enterprise by 2019.” Later in the article, Ms. Samsundar writes “However, the dissolution of the Counties Transit Improvement Board in May left Hennepin County footing a $289 million bill for their share of Southwest Light Rail, approximately $103.5 million more than initially projected. As Alpha News reported, the dissolution leaves the additional burden on Hennepin County taxpayers who will see a half-cent increase in their local sales tax.”

That’s just the tip of an expensive iceberg. The $289,000,000 bill is just part of the expense. Then there’s this:

The nearly 15 mile light rail extension that plans to connect wealthy western suburbs to the Twin Cities is still $900 million short, but that is not stopping Tchourumoff from moving forward with the plan.

Of course, that isn’t stopping her. It isn’t like she has to face voters. It isn’t like Ms. Tchourumoff is spending her own money. It’s exceptionally easy to spend other people’s money.

This is a total boondoggle for taxpayers across the state. In addition to tax increases in the Twin Cities, which I don’t care about, taxpayers in rural Minnesota get stuck with part of the tab of subsidizing this boondoggle. Let’s be clear. There isn’t a light rail line in Minnesota that breaks even. There isn’t a light rail line that comes close to breaking even. That’s why I call these projects boondoggles. For that matter, I could call these projects ideologically-inspired boondoggles.

The bottom line is simple. The Met Council isn’t interested in listening to people. They’re only interested in serving Gov. Dayton. If that costs taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars, the Met Council is fine with that. Like I said earlier, it isn’t like they’ll be held accountable by Gov. Dayton.

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People will insist that I’m being overly dramatic about refugee resettlement. That’s fine. Some members of St. Cloud’s City Council have already suggested that people who’ve asked for information on the economic impact of the State Department’s refugee resettlement program are racists. The St. Cloud Times has accused people who have simply asked for information of being bigots or Islamophobes. While visiting St. Cloud in October, 2015, Gov. Dayton told lifelong residents that they should leave Minnesota if they didn’t accept Somali refugees. Our congressman, Tom Emmer, is disinterested in the subject.

According to this KNSI article, “St. Cloud residents voiced their concerns about refugee resettlement at Monday’s city council meeting. A group of five people addressed the council asking for refugee population statistics and economic data, saying they haven’t been able to get any answers on the issue.” After they spoke, Councilman George Hontos made a “motion for a study session on refugee resettlement.” Hontos’ motion failed on a 4-3 vote.

The cowardly councilmembers who voted against even talking about the issue were Steve Laraway, Carol Lewis, John Libert and Jeff Goerger. City Council President Lewis attempted to defend her vote by saying that it’s “a federal issue, it may have some state implications, but we really have nothing we can say.”

Lewis is right in the sense that the refugee resettlement program is a federal program run through the U.S. State Department. It’s also a cowardly answer in the sense that refugees use local resources like schools, hospitals and other resources. Those things are definitely within the City Council’s purview.

It’s important to note that this motion wasn’t on a resolution condemning the program. It was a motion to spend a study session studying the impact the program has on St. Cloud’s transportation system, schools and hospitals. Goerger, Laraway, Lewis and Libert were too cowardly to even agree to that.

When those councilmembers are up for re-election, I hope St. Cloud residents remember that these councilmembers voted against transparency and accountability. In my opinion, those politicians are a disgrace. Here’s the video of Gov. Dayton telling lifelong Minnesota residents they should leave:

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Each time there’s a big project in St. Cloud, the usual suspects tell us that they support the project, then encourage the citizenry to follow suit. That type of thinking has led to one disastrous decision after another. Most recently, the usual suspects (St. Cloud Chamber of Commerce, the Greater St. Cloud Development Corporation, aka GSDC, Mayor Kleis all DFL legislative candidates and the ISD 742 School Board) insisted that building a new Tech HS wasn’t just the best option. They insisted it was the only viable option for the citizenry. The truth is that the Board’s option was the worst option. Even though it was the most expensive option for taxpayers, that didn’t matter to the usual suspects.

The usual suspects often act like spoiled brats. They want what they want when they want it. Anyone getting in their way gets steamrolled. As for Tech, the best option might’ve been refurbishing and expanding Apollo. Enrollment in ISD 742’s grade schools is shrinking. Enrollment in Tech and Apollo combined was approximately 2,500 students in the last statistics we had. The point is we didn’t need a Taj Mahal-class building for Tech. Simply put, spending $105,000,000 on a school that’d hold 1,800 students is a major waste of money.

Further, it’s insulting to think that we need to spend $19,000,000 on refurbishing Eastman Hall on the SCSU campus. The state already spent lots of money on the ISELF Building, remodeling the Brooks Hockey Center and building the Coborn’s Plaza apartments. Each time these major projects were proposed, the usual suspects voiced their support for these projects.

Another high priority with the usual suspects supposedly is air service from St. Cloud to Chicago. The usual suspects support the latest study that they hope will cause the county commissioners to sign onto a regional airport authority. One of the Stearns County commissioners is quoted as saying this is the first he’s heard of the latest study. Nonetheless, the usual suspects unconditionally support the latest efforts even though they don’t have a plan going forward.

Rarely do these players listen to the people. Instead, they spend their time telling people how great their latest big project is. The truth is that St. Cloud isn’t the growing city it once was. That’s because the usual suspects haven’t set the right priorities. They’ve endorsed crony capitalist projects that are in their self interests, not the public’s interests.

Building an apartment complex for the Wedum Foundation hasn’t benefitted SCSU. Building an expensive high school won’t shrink the achievement gap. Conducting another study of the airport won’t bring back daily regional air service. Meanwhile, the citizens’ property taxes continue to rise while more cost-effective options are ignored.

Thank the usual suspects the next time you pay your property taxes.

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One of the things that stuck out like a sore thumb at Monday night’s St. Cloud City Council’s Study Session was Mayor Dave Kleis’s evasiveness. Let’s start by saying the study session focused lots of time on a study on the future viability of St. Cloud Airport, the building of a regional airport authority and whether it’s necessary for there to be council representation on the airport task force. Mayor Kleis explained that the City Council was “the conduit” for the study. Mayor Kleis explained that the St. Cloud area county commissioners will read the study, then decide whether they’d want to form a regional airport authority.

Initially, Councilman Hontos questioned whether the City Council would be represented on the task force that conducts the study. The airport task force must get it right when it comes to hiring a specialized airport consultant. When Des Moines become a regional airport authority, they hired Don Smithey.

At this point, St. Cloud doesn’t have a plan, much less a set of goals it wants to achieve. Certainly, St. Cloud wants daily air service to Chicago but that’s pretty much its only goal. It’s indisputable that airports can have a significant economic impact. It’s equally indisputable that, at this point, the economic impact runs in the red for the St. Cloud taxpayers. It’s questionable whether Mayor Kleis has provided specific details as to how a regional airport authority will impact St. Cloud’s economy. At this point, I don’t know that this task force has developed a detailed business plan for the airport.

Until this task force receives that type of input and until the business community and the counties start working together, there’s ample reason to question whether another study will produce better results. It’s difficult to know whether the City of St. Cloud, the Greater St. Cloud Development Corporation, the St. Cloud Chamber of Commerce, the County Commissioners, the educational community (SCSU) and our legislative delegation have started working together.

What’s disturbing is that almost $75,000,000 worth of local, state and federal monies have gone for improvements to the St. Cloud airport. In addition to that, St. Cloud has frequently gotten grants to conduct studies to get daily air service to St. Cloud.

It’s more than disappointing that, in over 10 years, St. Cloud hasn’t put together a solid business plan that’s attractive to airlines. That leads me to question St. Cloud’s viability or whether they haven’t put the right personnel in the right positions.

Mayor Kleis’s argument that St. Cloud shouldn’t have to shoulder the cost of putting a regional airport authority together is accurate but it isn’t persuasive. What incentive do other mayors and county commissioners have in sharing those costs? St. Cloud essentially volunteered to pay for putting the airport association together. Further, the city hasn’t put a viable business plan together for their airport. Why shouldn’t the other cities let him foot the bill?

The first 75 minutes of this video are sickening:

Of particular note is Mayor Kleis’s evasiveness on the issue of representation on the board. Is that because Kleis knows this study doesn’t have much of a chance of producing different results than previous studies have produced? Mayor Kleis has used taxpayer-funded grants for other studies. Thus far, the studies have been portraits in futility.

I’d love to see St. Cloud develop its airport. At this point, though, I don’t have much confidence in that happening.

I’m quickly getting addicted to Alpha News’ reporting. This article is a great example of the work Alpha is doing. They’re doing reporting on things we’d never see in the Strib or other newspapers.

What other newspaper has written about the impact the collapse of CTIB, aka the Counties Transit Improvement Board, is having on the cost of the SWLRT? Anders Koskinen’s article is truly an eye-opener. In it, Koskinen wrote that, according to “the American Road & Transportation Builders Association, ‘the cost of constructing a new 6-lane Interstate highway [is] about $7 million per mile in rural areas, $11 million or more per mile in urban areas.'” Further, Alpha reports that it costs “about $1.25 million per mile” to “mill and resurface a 4-lane road.” Finally, Alpha reports that it costs “about $4 million per mile” to “expand an Interstate Highway from four lanes to six lanes.” Later in the article, Koskinen wrote that the per-mile cost of building a mile of the SWLRT is “$128.14 million.”

That’s only part of the story. The other part of the story is that the “project will cost a total of $1.858 billion and construct just 14.5 miles of new rail for the Metro Green Lines.” That’s before factoring in the fact that Hennepin County’s “contribution totals roughly $656.65 million, about 35 percent” of the SWLRT project. That’s assuming that the federal government picks up its $929,000,000 portion of the tab for SWLRT. That’s far from a certainty at this point.

Apparently, the Dayton administration thinks that SWLRT is never too expensive. Such type of thinking is frightening. To people in outstate Minnesota, spending $128,140,000 per mile of SWLRT can’t be justified, especially when it costs $1,250,000 per mile to resurface a 4-lane road. According to my trusty calculator, MnDOT could resurface almost 1,500 miles of road for the cost of building the SWLRT.

Guess who supports SWLRT:

I guess he thinks he hasn’t hurt our wallets enough through Obamacare. The time to stop SWLRT is now.

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This article announcing Gov. Dayton’s appointing of a new chairperson of the Met Council highlights the possibility of that appointee facing pushback when her committee hearing is held.

According to the article, “The Met Council has new leadership. On Tuesday, Gov. Mark Dayton announced that current Chair Adam Duininck will step down from his role as head of the Met Council. In his place, Dayton announced the appointment of Minnesota State Rail Director Alene Tchourumoff to head the Met Council.”

Further into the article, Alpha reporter Preya Samsundar reports “Sen. Dave Osmek of Mound, who is expected to announce his candidacy for governor this summer, had been pushing pieces of legislation to reign in, and more recently, abolish the Met Council. On the last day of session, Osmek turned in a 214-page piece of legislation which states, “A bill for an act relating to local and state government; abolishing the Met Council.” Osmek has been pushing for reformation of the Met Council since 2015.”
Sen. Osmek’s credentials as a reformer are high. Jason Lewis’ reformer credentials are pretty high, too. Rep. Lewis is working hard in DC against organizations like the Met Council:

In Washington, Rep. Jason Lewis is also doing his part to ensure the council goes no further. In March, a bill authored by Lewis passed through the Transportation & Infrastructure Committee in the United States House of Representatives.

“Under the rule, the Met Council, a Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO), could have expanded their boundaries and taxed the suburbs to help fund downtown projects,” Lewis told Alpha News at the time. “We’re protecting the ability of local decision makers to do what works for their own communities.”

Thank goodness for Jason Lewis for protecting suburbs like Prior Lake, Shakopee and Chanhassen. Let’s hope we elect a Republican governor and keep our GOP majorities in the Minnesota House and Senate so we can, at minimum, stop the Met Council’s authority to tax people without representing people.

Right now, the Met Council ‘represents’ Gov. Dayton. They don’t represent the people. Still, they’ve been given the authority to levy taxes. There’s no way that’s right.

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The biggest things I took away about Dan Wolgamott, the DFL-endorsed candidate for SD-14, from yesterday’s candidate forum is that he’s an empty suit and that he’s prone to talking himself in circles. On the subject of transportation, for instance, his opponent, Jerry Relph, said he opposed raising the gas tax as the solution to fixing Minnesota’s roads and bridges because it isn’t a stable funding source. Relph added that the gas tax might be used as a patchwork to fixing roads and bridges.

When it was Wolgamott’s turn, he said that raising the gas tax wasn’t his first choice, either, for the same reasons. Wolgamott added that there’s no disputing the fact that Minnesota’s lagged in investing in transportation. Wolgamott then said that he has the ability to bring people together (one of his go-to lines when he’s grasping for what to say next) before finishing by saying that all options have to be on the table, including raising the gas tax. If it doesn’t provide a stable funding source, it doesn’t have to be kept on the table.

There’s no doubt that, if given the time, Wolgamott would talk himself into opposing the gas tax increase again.

On a health care question that I submitted, Wolgamott said that “There’s been a lot of boogey-manning going on about MNsure” before saying “we’ve got to take immediate action to help these families who are in these situations.” No kidding, Captain Obvious. Premiums are increasing by 50%-67% and Wolgamott says that “we’ve got to take immediate action to help these families who are in these situations.” Unfortunately, he didn’t admit why they’re increasing that much.

Perhaps that’s because Wolgamott doesn’t want to admit that the DFL screwed things up by moving away from the system they had that was working. Perhaps it’s because he isn’t bright enough to figure that out.

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