Hopkins OKs Southwest LRT design plans

  • Article by: PAT DOYLE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: June 17, 2014 - 11:26 PM

Eden Prairie delays its vote because of bus questions.

Hopkins approved plans for the Southwest Corridor light-rail line Tuesday night while Eden Prairie postponed action on them so officials could negotiate how existing bus service would coordinate with light rail, using the same station.

“It’s been a long process of 15 years,” Hopkins Mayor Eugene Maxwell said of the most expensive transit project in the Twin Cities.

With its vote, Hopkins was the first of five cities along the line to weigh in on the plans, as required by state law.

Hopkins officials noted that only about 15 percent of the design is in place and that the city will play an ongoing role in developing plans for parking and other concerns as the project matures.

Council Member Jason Gadd voiced his support, saying, “This line brings jobs to our area, gives our people access to jobs” and benefits the broader economy.

Council Member Molly Cummings called the plan positive and exciting for communities along the line and an example of regional cooperation.

But Eden Prairie City Council members Tuesday decided they wanted more time for talks with SouthWest Transit over how its buses would share an existing station with future Southwest light rail traffic.

They postponed a vote on the light-rail plans until July 14, the deadline set under state law for the cities and Hennepin County to approve or reject them.

City Council Member Ron Case said after the decision that he doesn’t believe the bus issue will prevent Eden Prairie from granting consent.

“There’s strong consensus for the LRT in Eden Prairie,” Case said.

Minnetonka is expected to vote later this month and St. Louis Park in early July. Minneapolis, which has opposed the plan, is negotiating possible compromises with project planners and has not set a date for a public hearing or a vote on the project.

Eden Prairie has supported the light-rail project during its development and drafted its official approval of the plans for Tuesday’s meeting. The draft included a wish list of items that the suburb would like to see included if surplus funds are available from the Metropolitan Council, the agency overseeing the project.

The draft says the city understands that the Met Council will make an effort to include station amenities, a road connection to the line and other features. The suburb stopped short of demanding those items as a condition of approving the plans.

“It’s a very strong suggestion,” Eden Prairie Council Member Kathy Nelson said.

The Met Council is required to seek the approval of the cities and Hennepin County of preliminary plans for the Southwest project, which is expected to cost $1.68 billion and run nearly 16 miles from downtown Minneapolis to Eden Prairie.

If any of them reject the plans, it must offer amendments that would make the plans acceptable. But such a move could delay the project for additional weeks or months or put it at risk.

If Eden Prairie approves the preliminary plans with suggestions, it would keep the project moving forward and bank on the Met Council possibly paying for the new features if it runs a surplus during construction.

The project budget includes a federal requirement to set aside hundreds of millions of dollars for contingencies. The line is scheduled to open in 2019.

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