Minneapolis and the region would benefit from Southwest LRT

  • Article by: EDITORIAL BOARD , Star Tribune
  • Updated: August 22, 2014 - 6:53 PM

Minneapolis City Council should grant municipal consent to line.

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A portion of the planned Southwest light-rail corridor.

Photo: RENÉE JONES SCHNEIDER • Star Tribune,

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The proposed $1.65 billion Southwest light-rail project, a nearly 16-mile line that would proceed through portions of Eden Prairie, Minnetonka, Hopkins, St. Louis Park and Minneapolis, has faced many key votes during its contentious history. But the most crucial one yet comes this Friday, when the Minneapolis City Council will decide on granting municipal consent. City Council members should act in the city’s, and the region’s, best interests and vote “yes.”

To get to Friday’s vote on Southwest (also known as the Green Line Extension), sacrifices have been necessary. The most controversial component involves the portion of the line that would run in the Kenilworth corridor in Minneapolis. In July, an impasse was overcome when Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges and key City Council leaders struck a deal with the Metropolitan Council that advanced the project.

Other key issues that raise justifiable concerns remain. But they are not a reason to pass on what would be a transcendent transit project for both Minneapolis and the burgeoning suburbs.

One of these issues is trying to ensure “transit equity,” particularly for residents of north Minneapolis. It’s crucial for both city residents and southwest suburban employers that there be enhanced access to employment opportunities. So it’s understandable that Hodges, some City Council members and community organizations have pressed the Met Council for specifics on improving bus connections.

While the Met Council has not specifically agreed to any service changes, its track record speaks for itself. It realigned bus routes before June’s opening of the Green Line (also known as Central Corridor) and has aligned buses for the Blue Line (Hiawatha) as well. This should not be a dispute, since the Met Council has publicly stated its equity objectives.

The Met Council also needs to meet or exceed ridership goals. Here, too, the record is good, with both the Blue Line and the Green Line, which already is pacing 12.5 percent ahead of 2015 projections.

And the Met Council has direct experience in strategically aligning bus and train service: According to a 2012 Metro Transit Customer Survey, 40 percent of Blue Line riders reported that they had transferred from a bus to light rail.

On another issue, public ownership of land below the freight tracks in the Kenilworth corridor, there are shared objectives, too. While it has not been finally determined which public entity would own the land, key leaders from the Met Council, Minneapolis and Hennepin County agree that public ownership will help reduce (albeit not eliminate) the possibility of an increase in freight trains, with potentially more hazardous cargo, in the corridor.

It also would be better if the vote took place after a supplemental draft environmental impact statement (SDEIS) was issued. But that part of the process is in the hands of federal authorities, not the Met Council. If the SDEIS contains demonstrably different results that would require a design change from what Met Council, Minneapolis and Hennepin County anticipate, it could trigger a new municipal-consent process. This would be appropriate, since preserving the water quality of city lakes is essential and any new data that would suggest unacceptable risks should be a redline issue.

Some Southwest critics have complained that, once completed, the line will essentially be a commuter train for suburban workers. This criticism is misplaced, for two main reasons.

Southwest will help address inequality, which is particularly pronounced in the metro region. Nothing will address inequities quicker and more effectively than connecting people with jobs in growth industries.

And if the line does indeed disproportionally bring suburban commuters to Minneapolis, it only further solidifies downtown as the central business district to a multistate region. This brings direct benefits, including badly needed tax revenue, to Minneapolis.

The Metropolitan Council was designed to think, plan and act regionally. City Council members should, too, because what helps the region will help Minneapolis. Southwest light rail would bring economic, employment, environmental and other benefits, so now is the time for the Minneapolis City Council to vote “yes” on granting municipal consent.

  • REGIONALISM

    “It’s incredibly important for the region. … Minneapolis is the hub of the regional transit system and needs to be a great regional player.”

    SUSAN HAIGH, chair of the Metropolitan Council

    • • •

    “Given the constraints we were under, this is the most responsible way to get the project done. It is, in the end, a question of the greater good.”

    BETSY HODGES, mayor of Minneapolis

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