$478 million back at you Twin Cities

That’s the amount delivered today by Peter Rogoff, the top dog at the Federal Transit Administration.

It’s some of your federal tax dollars coming home.

The money goes to pay half the cost of the $957 million Central Corridor light rail line between downtown St. Paul and Minneapolis on University and Washington Avenues by way of the State Capitol, the Midway and the U of M east bank campus all the way to Target Field in Minneapolis.

Yes, it’s back to the future.

The light rail construction crews (really, this is true, you can go see) are tearing up the trolley tracks for the Twin Cities streetcars that ran from the late 1800’s to 1954.

As someone pointed out we reinvent our transportation culture about every fifty years in this country.

We’ve cast our lot with gasoline and rubber tired vehicles and are just now beginning to look to alternatives.

There’s hot debate over the wisdom of building the Central Corridor line. It’s not like the Hiawatha project. Central is generating lots more friction because it’s affecting lots more people.

Hiawatha’s right of way, most of it, had been available for decades, the result of a failed freeway building effort.

But Central is going down the throat of the state’s main street, University Avenue, one of the most vibrant and populated venues here in Walleyeland. We’re been hearing and are going to hear lots more vocalizations from folks affected by the physical and economic dislocation the project is causing.

Then there’s the money.

Nine hundred and fifty-seven million dollars makes Central the state’s largest public works project. Ever. Four hundred and seventy-eight million is the largest amount of federal dollars ever sent back from D. C. for a transportation project.

That’s money that could be used to build lots of lanes or interchanges in the Twin Cities to speed our commutes to suburbia and exurbia. But as Ramsey county commissioner Jim McDonough pointed out, his colleagues on the Ramsey county board whose districts do not stand to benefit directly from light rail voted to spend tens of millions as their share for the project.

Fifty years from now when we re-reinvent our transportation culture maybe crews will dig up the Central Corridor tracks and put in…what?

cclrt rail.jpg

Metropolitan Council outreach coordinator Joey Browner signed a rail at the Harold E. Stassen Office Building in St. Paul, Minn. Tuesday, April 26, 2011.

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