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Light-rail train

Glen Stubbe, Star Tribune

Golden Valley holds fate of LRT line

  • Article by: ROCHELLE OLSON
  • Star Tribune
  • December 16, 2012 - 11:28 PM

Golden Valley resident Robert Mattison knows that running the proposed Bottineau light-rail line through his hometown is the quickest route to connect Brooklyn Park with downtown Minneapolis.

"I can understand how every other community thinks it's just dandy. ... That doesn't mean Golden Valley should just roll over" and approve it, he said.

His main concern: that the line would interfere with enjoyment of Theodore Wirth Park and the Mary Hills Nature Area. Tracks already abut the areas, but he said rail traffic is all but nonexistent now, and LRT would send roughly 10 trains down the lines daily.

Because of concerned residents like him, Golden Valley is the lone holdout among the cities in the planned path of the line, which would open in 2018.

The Golden Valley City Council voted 3-2 last summer to oppose the route. The council held a public hearing last month and is to reconsider the vote Tuesday night. Unless the council reverses itself, the line is on life support.

"Every city's got to do what's in their best interest; every other city on the corridor believes this is in their best interest," Hennepin County Board Chairman Mike Opat said last week. "If they vote no, the project will be held up indefinitely."

Feds have final say

Opat, who represents Robbinsdale, Crystal, New Hope, Brooklyn Center and Brooklyn Park, is a supporter of the line and the decision to send it through Golden Valley rather than through north Minneapolis, the most frequently mentioned alternative. The route was chosen after several years of study.

The federal government ultimately will decide whether to fund the project. To get federal backing, a line must have the total package of high ridership numbers, minimal stops, and cost effectiveness. Opat said the best numbers came on the route through Golden Valley.

Minneapolis, Brooklyn Park, Robbinsdale and Crystal all gave the go-ahead for the project. If Golden Valley says yes, then the board can hand the project to the Metropolitan Council, which would begin a study of the line's environmental effects -- an effort that could take almost two years.

At the same time, the Met Council will hire engineers to begin designing the line and the stations. Before asking for federal approval, the Met Council would go back to every city council on the route and ask for approval, called municipal consent.

Without municipal consent from every city, the line would stall.

Another round of votes

Among those who want to see the Golden Valley City Council get on board with the train is Mayor Shep Harris, who pushed for a second vote. "I feel it's important to go forward and have the community further engaged," he said.

Supporters note that the upcoming vote is the means to learn more about the ramifications of the line, not the final word.

Harris said voting yes puts Golden Valley "at the table" as designs are made and questions are answered about the environment and station designs. "There's still a lot of ifs," he said.

Opat agreed. "Every other city understands there will be some design issues that will have to be worked through and every other city is excited to begin that work," he said.

Mattison said he believes this vote is definitive. He said he doesn't believe the Met Council will spend some $30 million on an environmental study and design, then punt the project.

But Opat said the municipal consent vote in a couple of years gives the city leverage. "Their power is real," he said.

As an example, he pointed to issues with the Southwest Corridor line, which is about a year ahead of the Bottineau. St. Louis Park unanimously endorsed the project, but some factions now are protesting a proposal to move three freight lines from Minneapolis to St. Louis Park. Opponents of that scenario must be appeased to win St. Louis Park City Council on the municipal consent cases.

Council leaning other way

That argument doesn't placate Mattison. "This is just another example of people from somewhere else, going somewhere else and taking something from our community," he said.

For now, it appears the council will switch sides and endorse the route.

Council Members Joanie Clausen, Paula Pentel and DeDe Scanlon voted against running the line through Golden Valley. Harris and Council Member Mike Freiberg voted for it.

Clausen said this week she is "likely" to vote for the line. "I'll probably be a human dart board but everybody's not going to be happy anyway," she said.

In explanation, Clausen said that, since the summer vote, she's heard from supporters of the line when she had previously heard only from opponents. "As an elected official, I have to look at the bigger picture," she said, adding that she believes light rail is the future.

Rochelle Olson • 612-673-1747 Twitter: @rochelleolson

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