Two different funding options for the Southwest Light Rail Transit (LRT) line are being considered at the Capitol, after being introduced by Sen. Melisa Franzen (DFL-Edina) Monday morning.
Senate File 257 and Senate File 258 both appropriate millions of dollars in bond proceeds to the Metropolitan Council to make the 15-mile light rail route a reality, though they do offer dramatically different amounts. SF 257 would provide $118 million for the project, fully covering the remainder of the state contribution toward the project. SF 258 would provide $37 million.
"It is time to move this project forward," Franzen said. "The business community, cities and residents are all on board. We need the Legislature to step up and make an investment that will pay big dividends for the West Metro."
While the amount differs between the bills, both would provide the capital investment funding to the Met Council to cover "environmental studies and preliminary engineering, to acquire real property, or interests in real property, and to design and construct the Southwest Corridor light rail transit line from the Hiawatha light rail transit line in downtown Minneapolis to Eden Prairie."
The Southwest line would extend from Target Field Station to Eden Prairie, weaving through St. Louis Park, Hopkins and Minnetonka along the way. Fellow State Senators Terri Bonoff (DFL-Minnetonka), Ron Latz (DFL-St. Louis Park), Bobby Joe Champion (DFL-Minneapolis) and Scott Dibble (DFL-Minneapolis) have all signed on as co-authors to the bills.
But even among light rail supporters, it’s no longer clear bonding for the project is the right path to take. Just last week, Latz and Rep. Steve Simon (DFL-Hopkins), who have been the chief authors on bills similar to Franzen’s in the past, questioned whether Gov. Mark Dayton’s proposed transit tax increase means the Legislature should stay out of it. MinnPost estimates Dayton’s tax would fund about $106 million annually worth of transit improvements, likely including light rail.
“It’s a little unclear to me right now where we stand on Southwest Corridor in the sense of whether there will even be a bonding bill this year,” Simon told the Hopkins City Council. “And if there is and if this quarter-cent sales tax passes, do we sort of slowly shift our attention to that? It’s not clear.”
Franzen said she believes Southwest LRT would benefit every community connected to the project—including St. Louis Park, Hopkins, Minnetonka, Eden Prairie and Edina—and would "be good for both businesses and their employees."
"If we want our businesses to grow, we need to develop a transportation system that can keep up with demand," she said. "We know that our highway system cannot keep up and this new light rail line will make a big difference for everyone in the West Metro."
Interested in the exact wording of the Southwest LRT funding bills? Check out PDF files of both—as introduced to the Senate—near the top of this article.