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Des Moines needs a light rail system

Trains are no more a thing of the past as more people are turning to the utilitarian method and public transit for getting around. Photo courtesy of Bernard Spragg, Flickr

Since my recent spring break trip to Washington, D.C. (the American History Museum is still standing, by the way), I have become a Metro train master. 

Having grown up in the Midwest and also always having had access to a car, I never really needed to utilize public transportation besides the occasional school trip when the city bus was the cheaper option than renting school buses.

Fast forward to my first year of college, where I suddenly didn’t have access to a car and was too nervous to take the DART bus by myself. I was relegated to spending most of my time stuck on campus.    

I’ve always had anxiety when it comes to transportation in general. I don’t have enough fingers to count all the times I’ve felt lightheaded in a car and fainted on a plane. Planning a trip makes me nervous because of all the scenarios of disasters I envision, and navigating how to physically get there and back makes my eyes roll back in my head from the stress. 

Sure, this is definitely not a first-world problem, but it is something I’ve struggled with, and learning to navigate public transportation has helped ease my fears.  

So, now that I feel I can confidently use the Metro system on the East Coast, I 100% believe that we need one here in Des Moines. And if not a Metro system (underground tunneling might pose a challenge), a normal light rail system, a public transit system method that relies on tram and rapid transit features, would be greatly appreciated by me and would be a great addition to the city of Des Moines. 

The DART bus system has been a great initiative but has faced challenges regarding timing and the amount of times someone has to change buses to get to their destination. A light rail system is faster. You don’t need to be concerned with traffic because it’s on its own set of tracks. Even a direct path from the light rail that could potentially meet up with other DART bus routes would be useful and shave off more than a few minutes for folks during busy rush hour-filled mornings and evenings.    

While some of you might be saying, “Um, Caroline, isn’t Des Moines a little small for an entire light rail system?” To that I say, “Don’t speak to me in that tone.” But in a more serious answer, yes, Des Moines is of course much smaller than Washington, D.C. or even the Midwest neighboring city of Minneapolis/St. Paul, whose light rail system was established in 2004. However, Des Moines’ small size is part of its strength. 

If we were to have a light rail system built, it wouldn’t need to be so expansive, therefore it would cost less. My ideal Des Moines light rail would stretch along University Avenue, fly down Keo Way through downtown and hit all the major hubs around I-235, such as the band of hospitals and the Iowa State Fairgrounds. 

Iowa has long had the reputation and reaffirmed its standing many times of low taxes with less community projects for the public to enjoy, but I think it’s time to alter that perception just the tiniest bit. Iowa needs something for the public to get excited about. Des Moines needs transportation for every resident to utilize efficiently. 

Other states are following suit too now that car ownership is slowly becoming less popular among young people, mostly because of the sheer cost of upkeep for a vehicle and an already fervent love for public transport. Omaha even has a preliminary project design for their own light rail system, and I don’t know about you, but I personally hate the idea of Omaha becoming a better travel hub than Des Moines.

The Green and Blue Metro lines in Minneapolis and St. Paul were created with funds from federal, state and local grant sources, so this would not have to be a “raising taxes on residents” situation like it was to build the U.S. Bank Stadium (which I’m still mad about, by the way). I don’t want to insinuate that this project won’t take money, but with the possible new Amtrak station being built through Des Moines, not to mention the whistles I sometimes hear in the distance, a Des Moines future as a transportation hub might be calling to us. And it doesn’t have to be so far away.             

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