By Barb Thoman, Executive Director
Update: On April 2, the Southwest Corridor Management Committee voted in favor of the project scope and budget for Southwest light rail. Anoka County Commissioner Matt Look and Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges voted no. Mayor Hodges called the approved plan for Southwest “a fundamental failure of fairness” for her constituents. TLC believes there are multiple benefits for Minneapolis and the entire region from this project, including affordable access to jobs for communities of color and low-income workers. As Congressman Keith Ellison and State Sen. Bobby Joe Champion stated in a recent op-ed, "To achieve our vision of a vibrant, equitable region we must extend our metro transit system and build the Southwest rail line."
Transit for Livable Communities has been a long-standing supporter of Southwest light rail. After years of study and debate, the Southwest LRT Corridor Management Committee will vote on the project’s scope and budget this Wednesday, April 2, and the Metropolitan Council votes on April 9. After that, the municipalities through which the line passes will also vote.
While it is unlikely that any outcome will please all involved, the entire metro has much to gain from this line. Southwest light rail will greatly expand access to job opportunities and education centers, reduce the high cost of transportation for many families, and reduce traffic noise and emissions in our neighborhoods. It will connect riders to key destinations from downtown Saint Paul to downtown Minneapolis to Eden Prairie, extending the reach of the Blue Line, Green Line, and local bus routes.
We understand the frustration of Minneapolis officials who long believed the freight rail line would be relocated out of the Kenilworth Corridor. After much study, that solution appears not to be possible. Southwest LRT has priority for federal funding (which will pay 50 percent of the cost) but further delay puts that prospect at risk. With the inability to reroute freight from the Kenilworth Corridor, we support the plans that call for tunneling light rail trains and the preservation of bicycle routes through the corridor as the best option for moving forward.
But, we also need to keep an eye on costs. Tunnels and additional stations, such as Mitchell Road, also push project costs higher and could affect funding for this and other projects. This region has a lot of transit system yet to build and a higher cost for this project would delay the implementation of 11 Rapid Bus lines, expanded bus service, and other transitway projects across the metro.
Southwest is one line in a system that needs to move forward. More transit options are integral to a thriving Twin Cities metro area. We share an interest in better serving Uptown and the Lake Street Corridor with transit, which is why we also support plans for rail in the Midtown Corridor and improved bus service on Lake Street. We also believe better connections from North Minneapolis to Southwest LRT will be needed. We are happy to hear that the City of Minneapolis is preparing an application for federal funds for the Nicollet-Central streetcar line.
We can’t afford any more delay. Losing momentum on this next key line risks losing momentum for a transit system that will better connect our entire metro. There will be opportunities for public testimony at both the April 2 Corridor Management Committee Meeting (8:30-11:30 AM, Beth El Synagogue, St. Louis Park) and the April 9 Metropolitan Council meeting (4 PM, Council Chambers, Saint Paul). TLC plans to testify in strong support of Southwest LRT and a shallow tunnel in the Kenilworth Corridor. We encourage you to do the same!