Golden Valley vote keeps Bottineau LRT alive

Golden Valley support was critical if light-rail plans were to proceed.

The last barrier to planning for the Bottineau light-rail line vanished Tuesday when the Golden Valley City Council voted 3-2 to support the line's proposed route.

Had the council voted "no," as it did last summer, it would have effectively killed development of the line in the near future. Other cities along the 13-mile line, as well as the Minneapolis Park Board, have supported the route. But authorities said planning for the line could not continue without Golden Valley's approval.

The key vote belonged to Council Member Joanie Clausen, who last summer voted "no." On Tuesday, she said she switched her vote because coming environmental and engineering studies will answer her many questions about the line before the project comes up for final municipal approval in a few years.

"I believe I am doing what is right for our citizens and for our community," Clausen said. "Light rail is the future. ... I feel it will be a benefit to us."

Mayor Shep Harris and Council Member Mike Freiberg also supported the route. Members Paula Pentel and DeDe Scanlon voted against it.

The Bottineau line would run from Minneapolis to Brooklyn Park, skirting Theodore Wirth Park as it runs along an existing freight-rail track through Golden Valley. Opponents said the line would steal green space, disrupt the peace of the park and dramatically increase the number of trains going through the city each day.

Pentel said she worried that Wirth Park, which she loved as a child, would be ruined by noise and disruption. She added that while supporters of the line say the city could vote against the project when it comes up for a final vote in the future, the money and time that will now be invested in studies will make it very difficult to stop the line.

"Once [the Metropolitan Council] spends $30 million, it's a very difficult ship to turn," Pentel said. "There is a decision being made today that will start in motion bringing light rail to Golden Valley."

Harris said he is committed to working with residents, the Met Council and the county on concerns about the environmental impact and worries about vibration and congestion.

"This is not the end," he said. "This is the beginning."

With Golden Valley's approval, a final environmental review of the route by the Metropolitan Council will proceed. Engineers will begin planning for the line and possible station locations.

Before going to the federal government for approval, cities along the route will have to vote again to give the project the go-ahead. Those decisions are at least two years off.

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

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