Met Council must be accountable on Southwest LRT

  • Article by: JENIFER LOON
  • Updated: September 6, 2013 - 8:28 PM

This powerful, unelected body needs to work closely with local officials on the problematic Southwest Corridor project.

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The Cedar Lake Trail alongside a current freight train track that has been a proposed site for the Southwest Corridor light rail line in St. Louis Park.

Photo: Renee Jones Schneider, Star Tribune

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The planners of the most expensive and controversial transit project in the Twin Cities could make a major mistake if they continue down their current path.

I couldn’t help but shake my head when I read that Metropolitan Council Chair Susan Haigh said Aug. 28 she hopes the group of leaders working on the massive Southwest Corridor light-rail project will quietly move it forward without taking public votes.

Since then, the council has killed another proposed part of the plan, the third postponement in a month by the planners. As a legislator representing a key community in the Southwest Corridor debate, this comes as a disappointing confirmation that the Met Council continues to show no accountability toward the people it works for.

Haigh and the special Corridor Management Committee will need to find a solution regarding unpopular options for routing trains through residential areas in Minneapolis and St. Louis Park; each decision should be held in consultation with local officials.

A working group consisting of mayors, city councilors and county commissioners has expressed significant concerns for the project and its cost, which is now expected to be up to $1.8 billion and could go higher.

For the members of the Met Council to move forward in their capacity as unelected officials and to commit millions of public dollars to these public works projects is concerning. Even more so is their power to act contrary to the wishes of duly elected local officials who are directly accountable to their communities and voters. Not only should they have to have a recorded public vote, this project should not move forward without municipal consent from each city council of every affected community along the line.

As with bonding (borrowing) in the state Legislature, perhaps each community should be required to reach a supermajority of local officials in order for the project to move ahead. The Southwest Corridor LRT is the biggest and latest example of why the Met Council model is badly in need of reform.

Most average citizens aren’t familiar with the Met Council. You won’t see them on the ballot when voting on elected leaders. The council is made up of members appointed by the governor and acts as a regional government agency enacting policies for the seven-county metropolitan area and its nearly 3 million residents.

The council was formed in 1967 to provide guidance for water and sewer services in various parts of the metro. Today, it has grown to a powerful agency spending billions in local, state and federal taxpayer dollars on a complex system of transportation, wastewater treatment, parks and trails, housing, urban planning, aviation planning and much more.

Investment in public infrastructure is important. However, the process must be open to public input and scrutiny, with decisions ultimately made in a transparent manner by public officials directly accountable to citizens — those paying the bills.

The Southwest Corridor LRT could become the most expensive transit project in Twin Cities history. As taxpayers continue to subsidize a portion of every passenger’s experience, this is not the time to shut out public debate or speed things up.

The members of the Met Council are accountable only to the governor who appoints them, nobody else. Major issues of the future Southwest Corridor LRT line need to be addressed by the people’s true representatives at the local level before the line can be advanced. If and when a consensus is reached, a public, transparent vote should be held for the good of everyone involved.

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Jenifer Loon, R-Eden Prairie, is a member of the Minnesota House.

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