Three cities along the Southwest light-rail line have approved scaled-back plans for the controversial $1.77 billion transit project this week.
The public hearings and council votes were prompted by changes to the 14 ½-mile line, which will connect downtown Minneapolis to Eden Prairie beginning in 2020. Adjustments were necessary because the project's budget ballooned last spring, prompting $250 million in cuts to get the line back on track.
State law requires that Hennepin County and the cities along the line — Minneapolis, St. Louis Park, Hopkins, Minnetonka and Eden Prairie — approve the changes and hold public hearings, after undergoing a similar process last year.
Eden Prairie and Hopkins approved the retooled plan Tuesday, and Minnetonka's City Council gave its stamp of approval Monday. The revised plan also advanced Tuesday in Minneapolis.
All five cities and the county must wrap up their approvals by Oct. 11.
Some of the more substantive cuts occurred in Eden Prairie, where the Mitchell Road station was eliminated and the Town Center station was deferred. "I want to thank you for ruining our city," said Donna Azarian, an Eden Prairie resident, during the city's public hearing. She said that the city doesn't have the density to support light rail and that it will "bring crime to our city." Her comments were met with audience applause, while another resident predicted "blood on the streets."
In Minneapolis, where the line's proposed route through the Kenilworth corridor has proved controversial, the City Council's transportation committee heard from 22 people during a 70-minute public hearing. Most who spoke expressed concern about running freight trains near passenger rail in the area between Lake of the Isles and Cedar Lake.
Rep. Frank Hornstein, DFL-Minneapolis, said more study is needed to fully determine what effect freight trains using the light-rail corridor will have on the 19,000 residents who live nearby.
In that vein, the committee adopted a resolution calling for the freight carrier, Twin Cities & Western Railroad (TC&W), to publicly disclose plans for emergency response and the rerouting of trains carrying flammable materials during light-rail construction, and to work with the neighborhood to address concerns.
TC&W President Mark Wegner said Tuesday that the railroad has been working with neighbors and the city on these issues and that he was distressed that the city hadn't contacted the company before adopting the resolution. He said the trains carry ethanol, corn and soybeans, but no crude oil.
Others questioned whether constructing tunnels to encase the trains would foul the lakes, and some expressed concern about construction noise and disruption. Some said the environmental studies by the Metropolitan Council, the regional planning agency overseeing the project, are flawed. "The Met Council has no sympathy for residents who will be damaged by this line," said Bob Brockway, who lives in a condominium complex nearby.
City Council Member Lisa Goodman, whose district includes the Kenwood area, said, "The fix is in; there are few people willing to take on the Met Council. Mark my words, there are going to be problems."
Steve Cramer, president and CEO of the Minneapolis Downtown Council, said light rail would be an important transit link from downtown Minneapolis to other metro areas and employers.