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Continued: Southwest LRT: Bumpy path to crucial Mpls. vote

  • Article by: PAT DOYLE , Star Tribune
  • Last update: August 12, 2014 - 11:46 PM

‘Deal’s not done’

Minneapolis City Council Member John Quincy, whose ward is outside the Southwest route, predicted that the current deal will pass. He said council members trust Glidden, the council vice president, transportation committee chairman Kevin Reich and other city officials who brokered the deal.

“I’m not suggesting it’s going to be 13-0,” Quincy said. “It’s going to be a split vote.”

The deal is set for a city public hearing Aug. 19 and “we’re looking forward to a robust discussion,” he said.

Glidden said the vote “is likely to be positive, but there are a couple of outstanding issues.”

The biggest is future ownership of the freight rail. The deal says the Met Council will “exert whatever influence it has” to persuade Hennepin County, which owns the freight tracks in the corridor, to maintain public ownership and continue restricting its use. While the tracks are currently used by the Twin Cities & Western Railroad, the city worries that selling the tracks to a railroad or allowing another railroad to use them would increase traffic or hazards.

Since the deal was announced, the city has pressed the county for a written commitment in property records that the freight tracks will remain in public ownership. The city earlier thought it had a commitment to move the freight to St. Louis Park, only to learn otherwise.

John Stiles, chief of staff for Mayor Betsy Hodges, last week said of public ownership: “We do require a binding agreement — which will cost the project no money — for municipal consent.” He said the city made that clear to the county “all along.”

Hennepin County Commissioner Peter McLaughlin said, “The city has … elevated it beyond what’s in their deal with the Metropolitan Council. We never agreed to that.”

But McLaughlin, a strong supporter of the Southwest project, said he didn’t see the issue upending the deal, which faces a county vote on Aug. 19.

“I’m not too concerned about this,” he said. “This is kind of the usual details at the end of a deal. We think public ownership, long term, is the right way to go.”

The county wants to end its ownership of the freight tracks and says the Met Council is the logical owner, but the two governments haven’t agreed on terms, and they must settle which of them pays to temporarily move the freight tracks during light-rail construction and other issues.

Gordon wants to take a closer look at the impact of the light-rail tunnel on nearby lakes. He also wants assurances that the tunnel, which is intended to spare homes and bike trails along the future light-rail line, won’t be dropped because the Legislature or a Twin Cities transit funding board “come along and say, ‘Hey, we can’t afford that.’ ”

“I want to see something that makes it really clear that if the south tunnel comes out and it destroys the bike trail, the project is canceled,” he said.

“The deal’s not done until the deal’s done,” Glidden said.

Pat Doyle • 612-673-4504

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