Golden Valley rethinks light-rail line

City support is critical if Bottineau plan is to advance.

With the future of the Bottineau light-rail line hanging in the balance, the Golden Valley City Council will reconsider its previous vote against the proposed route.

But council members want something in return: One hopes Hennepin County will consider adding the city to its 911 service, and others see a station at Golden Valley Road a necessity so city residents can get to trains.

In June, the council voted 3-2 against having light rail run along an existing freight rail line that skirts Theodore Wirth Park. Hennepin County has chosen that location as part of the 13-mile transitway's preferred route from Minneapolis to Brooklyn Park.

Last week, the Golden Valley council was told that the Metropolitan Council will not proceed with planning for the line unless every city along the route gives preliminary approval. Other cities and the Minneapolis Park Board have supported the plan so far; all will have a final vote on the project later.

Golden Valley has scheduled a public hearing about the proposed route for Nov. 28. The council is expected to take another vote in December.

"There does seem to be more willingness by a couple of our council members to at least support the next step," said Golden Valley Mayor Shep Harris. "I'm hopeful."

Harris and Council Member Mike Freiberg provided the two "yes" votes for the rail corridor in June. Freiberg has been elected to the Legislature and will leave the council in January, giving rail supporters added urgency for another council vote before the end of the year.

Last week, the council met with representatives of the Met Council and the county about the line. Following that discussion, Joanie Clausen, who had voted against the route in June, said she may be willing to switch her vote to allow project planning to proceed. But she wants the county to "seriously consider" adding Golden Valley to its 911 dispatch service.

The city has one year left in a three-year contract for dispatch services with Edina, but city officials believe they could save money by going with the county. Such a request was turned down last summer.

"I'm giving a little, and I want [the county] to be serious about considering this for our city," Clausen said. "I'm going to give them the benefit of the doubt that they will do the right thing."

Earlier this year, the county took over Hopkins' 911 service because the city was facing a crisis with obsolete dispatch equipment. Whether the county would again consider taking over Golden Valley's dispatch service is unclear, but timing may be an issue.

Golden Valley must give Edina a year's notice if it intends to sever their 911 partnership. And Golden Valley will not have representation on the county board until new member Linda Higgins is sworn in next week. She could not be reached for comment on Friday.

Seeking residents' input

Paula Pentel, another Golden Valley council member who had opposed the route, pressed for a public hearing that would allow the council to hear from residents before they vote again. She said she believes the city's preliminary vote is the important one, which is why she wants to carefully weigh her decision. The city's final vote would come after the Met Council spends millions on environmental and engineering studies.

"Once the [first] OK is given, I think it's really hard to backpedal once you're $4 million down the line," she said.

If the line goes through, Pentel said, the city should demand a station at Golden Valley Road so city residents can access trains. She also would like to make the county financially responsible for improvements near stations and wants answers to questions about parking.

Harris said he is comfortable with having the public hearing. He said it's important to let planning proceed, and that the city will have its final say on the line when everyone votes again in a couple of years.

"The more people learn about this, the more comfortable they will be with it," he said. "It's a multi-government process, and it's messy."

Mary Jane Smetanka • 612-673-7380 Twitter: @smetan

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  • What's next for Bottineau line

    Saturday November 17, 2012

    Golden Valley's public hearing on the Bottineau line is at 7 p.m. on Nov. 28 at City Hall.

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