Met Council looms over Vikings stadium

  • Article by: PAT DOYLE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: May 15, 2011 - 9:45 AM

The Arden Hills project's impact on roads could trigger a review and result in a delay. But the bill also has an exemption.

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The proposed Vikings Stadium site at Arden Hills.

The route to a Vikings stadium in Ramsey County could be a rocky road if a currently silent partner speaks up.

The millions of taxpayer dollars needed to upgrade roads to the former munitions plant site in Arden Hills could bring in the Metropolitan Council, which has authority over road and other regional planning in the seven-county metro area.

A Met Council review of the proposed road improvements to see whether they're compatible with regional plans could suspend action on the stadium project for up to a year.

"We expect to be drawn in," said Steve Elkins, a Met Council member who is chairman of its transportation committee. "All it would take is some complaining party to request a study of the metropolitan significance of the stadium, and that kicks off a whole formal process."

But tucked in the 35-page legislative bill calling for the state to pick up about a third of the cost of a new Vikings stadium is an exemption from the state law authorizing Met Council reviews. The Vikings want the exemption, citing one the Twins got for Target Field.

"We provided input over a period of months and even years," said Lester Bagley, Vikings vice president for public affairs and stadium development.

Asked whether he was concerned about a review delaying or interfering with the project, Bagley said, "There are a lot of concerns, a lot of fronts."

Waiting to see the bill

For now, the Met Council is a spectator rather than a player in the debate. Met Council Chair Susan Haigh said it "has not received any kind of formal request for a ... review."

The agency would likely wait for direction from the Legislature before conducting any review. "It would not be smart to start a review until you know what the real proposal is going to be," she said.

The Met Council would have a special reason to review the Vikings plan because it calls for using federal money to finance some highway improvements. The council is the local agency that oversees plans for spending federal transportation money.

It could seek such a review, or stadium opponents could ask for one. An affected city government, half of the voters in that city or a petition of 5,000 Twin Cities residents also could seek a review. In addition to the delay, a review could end in recommendations to change the project.

Improving highways for the stadium would mean giving the team priority over other projects when the state faces a $50 billion shortfall in road funding, mostly in the Twin Cities. The state has delayed, canceled or reduced projects because of lack of funding.

MnDOT noted that potential improvements to a federally funded highway south of the site -- the intersection of Interstates 35W and 694 -- could cost $15 million.

State officials estimated that roadwork for the entire project could cost from $175 million to $240 million, depending on the size of the sports complex and surrounding development. The Vikings have disputed those figures and say that some of the costs would include projects already planned.

"Any road improvements would have to be acted on by the council," Met Council spokeswoman Bonnie Kollodge said, referring to upgrades of major highways.

Foes and friends of scrutiny

A Met Council review of the impact of a stadium proposal is needed, said Rep. Michael Beard, R-Shakopee, chairman of the House Transportation Policy and Finance Committee and a critic of the council's transit management. "If there's something of this size and regional significance, I think the Met Council is required to review it and make recommendations on how it impacts ... transportation," Beard said.

But some other major projects have not been reviewed for their effect on the surrounding area, including Target Field, whose enabling legislation was borrowed for the Vikings bill. "The bill was drafted to exempt it from that process, just as the Twins ballpark was," Bagley said.

That's because Target Field is on the west side of downtown Minneapolis, where roads were already in place, Elkins said. "It didn't require any changes to the transportation plan. It probably provided an impetus for extending light-rail west another block."

Pat Doyle • 612-673-4504

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