Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges and a majority of City Council members won election last year after promising to promote growth, expand transit options, address inequities and make the city the center of a more competitive metropolitan region.
How soon they seem to forget.
Minneapolis appears poised to block the most ambitious transit project in state history — the vital Southwest Corridor light-rail line connecting Eden Prairie, Minnetonka, Hopkins and St. Louis Park with downtown Minneapolis, the University of Minnesota and St. Paul.
Minneapolis and four other key cities along the route began a 75-day municipal consent process on Thursday after the Metropolitan Council voted 14-2 to advance the $1.68 billion, 16-mile line.
To date, Hodges and the City Council have steadfastly opposed every attempt the Met Council has made to quell neighborhood NIMBYism, including adding $160 million worth of tunnels. And if Minneapolis fails to grant consent, Met Council Chairwoman Susan Haigh said, the project is unlikely to move forward.
In March, Hodges and the council unanimously opposed the plan that calls for two shallow tunnels that would hide light-rail trains in much of the Kenilworth corridor. The design would allow the light- and freight-rail lines to be co-located with bike and pedestrian trails.
The light-rail line would emerge from the tunnels to cross a bridge over a water channel between Lake of the Isles and Cedar Lake, but apparently just that glimpse of LRT traffic is too much for some of the homeowners.
No one disputes that construction will be a hassle for some residents and that routing light-rail lines through fully developed urban neighborhoods is not ideal. But consider the Central Corridor (or Green) line, which overcame objections from businesses along University Avenue, Minnesota Public Radio and the University of Minnesota. In the end, regional interests won out.
Minneapolis has lost the freight-rail co-location battle it has waged for years with St. Louis Park and the Twin Cities & Western Railroad. City officials should focus on negotiating in good faith with the Met Council on reasonable modifications that might make the existing plan more palatable. But city leaders should also heed the analysis of Gov. Mark Dayton, who told the Star Tribune on Tuesday that the shallow-tunnel plan was “the only option.” Rejecting it, he rightly added, would most likely set back light-rail transit for a decade. In fact, that timeline might be optimistic.
The Southwest line was chosen to be fast-tracked by the federal government, which would pay half the cost. If Minneapolis fails to grant municipal consent, it’s likely that the project will never again win support in Washington.
The Twin Cities region, facing keen economic development competition from transit-friendly markets across the country, cannot afford to let this opportunity pass.
Southwest would bring thousands of suburban workers into downtown Minneapolis. As important — especially for politicians concerned about ever-increasing inequities in Minneapolis — the line would greatly expand Minneapolitans’ access to the Southwest Corridor, which is projected to add 60,000 jobs by 2030.
The burgeoning businesses in the corridor need workers. And Minneapolis residents need a transit system that will move them efficiently to jobs throughout the metro area.
SWLRT is a critical next step in building a metrowide transit system. If Minneapolis blocks it, support for additional mass-transit projects — including the proposed Bottineau light-rail line in the northern suburbs and streetcars in Minneapolis — will no doubt erode.
This page endorsed Hodges in the race for mayor, in part because she articulated a strategic vision for growth and a commitment to represent the interests of the entire Twin Cities region as the leader of its most important economic engine. Leading the City Council to grant municipal consent would deliver on that pledge.
Today, with the fate of SWLRT hanging in the balance, broader regional interests clearly trump the concerns of disgruntled Minneapolis property owners.