Credit the leaders of the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board and the Metropolitan Council for wisely working through a compromise on Southwest light rail. As important, they set a precedent for closer collaboration on any light-rail projects that may impact parkland in the city.
The accord, approved by the Park Board on a 6-3 vote Wednesday night, will result in a light-rail bridge, not a tunnel, to span a channel that connects Cedar Lake to Lake of the Isles. Some citizens and Park Board members had advocated for what some considered a less-intrusive tunnel option, and the Federal Transit Administration recognized the Park Board’s standing on the matter. But building a tunnel would have delayed the project and increased costs. Instead, the Park Board and the Met Council will work to mitigate the impacts of the bridge, as well as transit impacts on any other land owned by the Park Board. This is important not just for the Southwest line, but also for the proposed Bottineau light-rail line that will skirt Theodore Wirth Park.
The Met Council also agreed to pay up to $250,000, or about half, of the cost for consultants to study the channel issue, as well as some compensation for staff time. There also will be up to a $250,000 reimbursement for future Southwest-related costs, and up to $250,000 for Bottineau-related costs
Gov. Mark Dayton had threatened to zero out about $3.7 million in biennial funding for the Park Board because of its position on Southwest. Rightly, that funding will be restored to the governor’s proposed budget.
The Hiawatha (Blue Line) and Central Corridor (Green Line) projects faced hurdles, too, but now are integral and successful lines. There’s reason to be optimistic about Southwest and Bottineau, too, especially given this agreement. The Met Council votes on the matter on Wednesday. There are still many environmental and engineering steps ahead, and the project faces a lawsuit by the Lakes and Parks Alliance, as well as state funding challenges. But thanks to wise compromise, Southwest is back on track.