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Cutting a deal
The Metropolitan Council, the agency overseeing the Southwest project, is asking Minneapolis and four suburbs along the route for their consent. The agency is negotiating with members of the Minneapolis City Council over details of the plan and concessions that would make the project acceptable. A new City Council member who represents the North Side acknowledges pressure from constituents to accept some version of the plan.
“My sense is the folks in north Minneapolis want it,” said council member Blong Yang.
A potential bargaining chip is extending bus service from the North Side to two of the closest light-rail stations, which are in a valley along the existing Burlington Northern Santa Fe railroad tracks near Penn Avenue and Van White Boulevard.
North Side advocates say the bus service to Southwest is crucial.
“It’s not going to run into the heart of north Minneapolis,” said the Rev. Paul Slack, pastor of New Creation Church. “But one of the ways to connect it is to have bus routes that run from different parts of north Minneapolis … back and forth to the Van White station.”
Tougher, and potentially more expensive, would be extending bus service on Penn Avenue south across I-394 to a frontage road at the top of the valley, where Slack said a pedestrian bridge could be built for passengers to cross the railroad tracks and reach the Penn Southwest stop.
Another concession could be more government money to develop areas around those stations and a third station on Royalston Avenue near the Minneapolis Farmers Market. The Met Council already has spent money to clean up an area near the Royalston station for senior housing and has a long-range plan to develop the Linden Yards area near the proposed Van White station for offices and more than 500 housing units.
Approval of the Southwest Kenilworth route by the Met Council this month hasn’t stopped some Southwest critics from demanding that the agency reconsider running the line in a more densely populated area in Uptown along the Midtown Greenway and north on Nicollet Avenue.
The idea was rejected after studies showed it would have cost as much as $1.73 billion when the Kenilworth option was $500 million cheaper. While tunnels and other features have since boosted Kenilworth costs to $1.68 billion, costs for the Uptown alternative were likely to have increased as well. A neighborhood organization and Nicollet Avenue businesses opposed the alternative and others said a Midtown light rail would have duplicated bus service on Lake Street.
Ellison noted that Southwest planners stand to get half of its funding from the federal government and advised the City Council to “make the best out of the situation. Argue for the things you believe Minneapolis needs … and support the line.”
Pat Doyle • 612-673-4504