Matt Doll, Minnesota Environmental Partnership
Good news has been rolling in for public transportation over the past month in Minnesota. Yesterday, the Blue Line advisory committee and Governor Tim Walz reaffirmed their commitment to constructing the Bottineau light rail extension project, which would connect downtown and north Minneapolis with the northwestern Twin Cities suburbs. On the other end of the Metro Transit light rail network, construction on the Southwest Light Rail Transit (SWLRT) project has continued to steam along, fueled by federal funds and undaunted by the COVID-19 crisis. And last week, transportation officials announced that a federal grant that would help add an additional daily Amtrak trip connecting the Twin Cities to La Crosse, Milwaukee, and Chicago by 2024.
The redevelopment of passenger rail in Minnesota is good news for our climate. Transportation is our state’s largest source of greenhouse gas emissions, and most of these emissions come from personal cars, trucks, and SUVs. While transitioning to electric vehicles will help with these emissions, reducing miles driven is the most important step we can take.
Conventional passenger trains, like Amtrak, have a significantly lower carbon footprint per passenger than a car, and a vastly lower impact than air travel. Light rail is even better, as Metro Transit’s trains are powered by electricity, and the electricity sector is greening more rapidly than any other in Minnesota.
These rail lines will also improve the livability of our cities. The replacement of car trips will reduce air pollution that makes people sick, and traffic accidents that cause injuries and death. People who choose not to or are unable to drive will be able to reach more destinations more quickly.
However, much more remains to be done. Proposals to expand passenger rail to cities like St. Cloud and Duluth will continue to build a more resilient and climate-friendly transportation system in Minnesota – if our state can build the political will and win federal support. The next Congress and Minnesota Legislature will face major gaps in our transportation infrastructure and our economy. They should bet big on rail for our communities and for our planet.