BRT visualization

An artist's depiction shows the potential for a bus rapid transit system near the corner of Second Street Southwest and Sixth Avenue. 

With City of Rochester, Olmsted County and Destination Medical Center staff looking at transit options for the city, options have apparently narrowed down to two: a streetcar rail line or high-capacity buses.

According to a study, both would move the same number of commuters  — approximately 12,000 rides each day — from a southeast location through downtown to the west side near Cascade Lake Park. The daily fare would be more expensive on the rail line.

Rail has a certain pizzaz, in large part because in so many cities it is seen as the way of the future when it comes to getting commuters safely and quickly to their jobs, and in an environmentally friendly manner. Buses, in contrast, are kind of the same old thing.

"We are supposed to be envisioning something exciting and new and transformative, and a bus lane ain't it," said Rochester Mayor Kim Norton.

Most of us, including this page, would probably agree that, all things being equal, let's do something unprecedented in a city of this size. Isn't that what DMC is all about, after all?

However, and it's a huge however, the cost of rail compared to the bus plan initially seems to have scared off would-be supporters.

We're talking Council Member Michael Wojcik and County Commissioner Sheila Kiscaden, both of whom have been supporters of rail in the past.

But here's what has Wojcik and Kiscaden — and other city and county elected officials — thinking they might hop on the bus instead: The difference in cost between the two proposed systems is at least $250 million. The rail system would cost up to $356 million, while the bus system would run up to $98.6 million.

Those numbers are tough to swallow, and make it exceedingly difficult for even rail supporters to justify the expense.

So, is the decision, which will be made Oct. 7, a foregone conclusion?

We hope not. Maybe we, like Norton, are just trying to hold on to a dream a big longer. In reality, though, we think this decision, which will govern so much about Rochester's future, needs careful thought and study.

Perhaps Norton is right, that DMC was meant to be something special, and buses are, well, not. Or, it's entirely likely the cost difference is so stark that common sense says the bus system is the only way to go.

We could decide that rail is about tomorrow and buses are about yesterday. We could also decide that $250 million is too much to spend on a dream.

Whatever the case, let's get there step by step, in a thoughtful manner. Transportation, as has been noted time and again, is a one of the keys to the future of Rochester, Mayo Clinic and the Destination Medical Center concept. We better get it right.

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