But businesses, cities cite light-rail transit's economic benefits.
The biggest light-rail transit project in the Twin Cities is heading for a bumpy ride.
Fans and critics of a line between downtown Minneapolis and the southwest suburbs are on a collision course over spending state funds to build it.
"I'm not afraid to stand up to folks who are in love with trains and say, 'Hold on here just a minute,'" said Rep. Mike Beard, R-Shakopee, chair of the House transportation committee.
"It's going to be a battle," said Rep. Frank Hornstein, DFL-Minneapolis, a major supporter of the Southwest Corridor light-rail project.
The $25 million at stake is a fraction of the project's $1.25 billion cost, but a large step toward the Southwest Corridor becoming a reality.
A refusal to commit the money could signal a lack of state support and stall the project, putting it behind others on the waiting list for crucial federal funding.
Republicans last year engineered legislation that sets a higher bar for approving future transit spending. Armed with that new law, the critics are challenging Gov. Mark Dayton's inclusion of the $25 million in a public works bill.
Meanwhile, DFLers, suburban businesses and cities along the planned route are launching a campaign to sell the light-rail line as spurring economic development.
The line would run from Eden Prairie to downtown Minneapolis, where riders could transfer to other light-rail lines to the Mall of America or to downtown St. Paul. Supporters say it would serve an additional 60,000 workers by 2030.
One company supporting Southwest is Japs-Olson, a St. Louis Park direct-mail firm with 650 employees and plans to grow.
"There's a number of our employees who are coming from northern suburbs and that might be another option for them," said Monica Murphy, a top executive at Japs-Olson. "Hard to see the drawbacks in it, except with the cost, but I think that pays off in the long run for people."
Zellers: 'I'm not a rail fan'
The 15-mile route would be several miles longer and more expensive to build than the Hiawatha light-rail line to the mall or the Central Corridor line under construction in St. Paul.
Boosters emphasize that the state would end up paying just 10 percent of the total cost. The federal government is expected to pick up half and Twin Cities counties 40 percent, with the biggest chunk coming from Hennepin County.
But those assurances don't satisfy leading state Republicans.
House Speaker Kurt Zellers, R-Maple Grove, said he's opposed to spending on the Southwest line this year.
"We've got a lot of stuff we need to fix up and maintain before we start adding to that burden," Zellers said. He prefers bus rapid transit and widening parts of I-494.
"We like our independence and having our own car to drive where we want and when we want," he said. "I'm not a rail fan. I think buses ... are working very, very well."
Senate Majority Leader Dave Senjem, R-Rochester, and Transportation Chair Sen. Joe Gimse, R-Willmar, are among those demanding detailed federal commitments before approving the $25 million.
"What prompted the concern about Southwest is how that moved pretty quickly ahead of the federal commitment," Senjem said.
Gimse and Beard wrote to the governor recently to complain that the state "was exposed to significant financial risk" in the early stages of the Central Corridor project because of uncertainty over federal funding. They cited the law passed in last year's special session that requires detailed disclosure of approved and proposed funding for building and running future light-rail projects.
"We believe that this project should not move forward until the federal government has met their financial obligation," they wrote of the Southwest line.
"That's impossible," said Hennepin County Commissioner Gail Dorfman, noting that the federal government doesn't commit funding until after state or local financing is assured.
The Federal Transit Administration (FTA) ranks projects on the "stability and reliability" of state and local funding before deciding whether to award federal funds.
The metro counties have committed $42 million to the Southwest line and the state has kicked in $5 million.
Backers stress that the FTA has approved preliminary planning for the project and say detractors have set the bar unreasonably high in order to kill it.
"They're building a case for a 'no' vote," Hornstein said.
The campaign to sell the line has the support of businesses usually persuasive with Republican legislators. Tim Murnane, CEO of Opus in Minnetonka, who contributed to the campaigns of former GOP Gov. Tim Pawlenty, is counted among supporters.
Metro-area chambers of commerce recently released a poll at the Capitol reporting that 61 percent of Minnesotans support "dedicating" the $25 million if it would help free up the $625 million in federal funds.
Without the Southwest line, the Twin Cities risks losing business to places with better transit, said Matt Kramer, president of the St. Paul area Chamber of Commerce. "We're putting ourselves at a competitive disadvantage," he said.
The chambers have given several tours of the Southwest Corridor to key GOP legislators in hopes of convincing them of the need for light rail. St. Louis Park, Minnetonka, Hopkins and Eden Prairie, where the line would run, also express support.
But none of the GOP legislators representing those cities have gotten on board, said TwinWest Chamber president Bruce Nustad.
Critics say the cost of acquiring property for the proposed route could rise. "There are some unresolved questions, pretty big ones," said Rep. Jenifer Loon, R-Eden Prairie, the assistant majority leader. "Would it make more sense to do some bus rapid transit and not as much rail?"
The $25 million is among $775 million in public works spending proposed by Dayton. Both sides say the fate of the Southwest Corridor could hinge on horse-trading in the final weeks of the session between the DFL and GOP over favored projects.
"At the end of the day ... people want things and I can see pressure being applied in other areas that ... might make strange things happen," Beard said.
Pat Doyle • 612-673-4504