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Continued: Southwest Corridor light-rail project foes flex political muscle

  • Article by: PAT DOYLE , Star Tribune
  • Last update: November 3, 2013 - 8:44 PM

Sen. Scott Dibble, DFL-Minneapolis, who also attended the meeting with Dayton, said the delay reflects justified community concerns. “It’s important that the community speaks up … and we respond,” he said.

Soon after Dayton’s announcement, Smart advocated a more dramatic option.

“Realignment of the LRT!!!” his note read on a website critical of the light-rail plans.

It reflects the latest twist in the strategy of Southwest critics. Initially, they pushed for rerouting the freight trains to make room for the light rail at ground level. When they realized that 220 light-rail trains would pass daily, they agreed to keep the freight traffic if the light-rail were hidden in a tunnel throughout the entire corridor. But that idea died after metro leaders balked at spending $330 million to dig a tunnel under the water channel.

The Metropolitan Council, the agency planning the project, then offered two smaller tunnels with light-rail traffic surfacing over the channel, for a cost of $160 million. But some residents near the channel still display blue lawn signs calling for the longer tunnel. Others now press Dayton to block light-rail entirely from the Kenilworth corridor.

Jobs and property

Those who want to block light-rail from the corridor insist they support mass transit but argue that the route won’t serve Minneapolis riders as much suburban commuters. They point to relatively low ridership figures projected for several city stations in and north of the wooded, parklike Kenilworth corridor.

“The preference of everyone I know is, ‘Can we change the route of the light rail and put it where there’s going to be people and development?’ ” said Lynch, who also would support a tunnel under the channel. He lives on Cedar Lake, blocks from the proposed route.

“It’s not serving the people of this city,” Smart said.

Others strongly disagree.

“This line … has the ability to serve all kinds of people, all socio-economic groups, more than any other line we’d be building,” said Edina Mayor Jim Hovland, who was on a panel of metro leaders involved in planning the project. “It’s going to benefit Minneapolis people who can’t afford a single-occupant vehicle to be able to get to jobs out in the suburbs.”

Lilly offered a different perspective. “We are just residents who have reasons to be concerned about what’s going to happen to our neighborhood and what’s going to happen to our property values,” he said. “That’s how democracy works.”

Important friends

Smart and his wife, Cynthia, have held many fundraisers at their home for Democrats, including some involved in the controversy over the Southwest line. His Facebook page includes pictures of him with Dayton, Dibble and Rybak.

“R.T. has been a friend of ours for many, many years,” Smart said. “We supported him for governor.”

Smart, who owns a business designing restaurants, said he and his wife are “a couple of old hippies … we realized years ago when we got into the business world that marching in the streets probably wasn’t going to do it for us anymore.

“So we’ve tried to put money or influence any way we can to get people we believe can make this country better — we’ve tried to get them elected,” he said.

Since 1990, the couple has given about $27,000 to federal and state candidates and liberal causes, while Lilly and his wife, Diane, gave $24,000. Lynch and his wife, Terry Saario, a former official in President Jimmy Carter’s administration, gave $302,000 over those years. The three couples spent about $80,000 of their contributions on state candidates and causes, with Dayton and Rybak getting a total of $13,700. “I’ve never asked for a favor,” Lynch said.

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