Patch Editor Zac Farber contributed to this story.
Suburban leaders along the Southwest Light Rail line—including Edina mayor Jim Hovland—huddled together Tuesday with Gov. Mark Dayton, state legislators, Metropolitan Council officials and others to figure out a way past the Kenilworth Corridor controversy.
“It was nice to see him get the broader picture and see what the other cities along the lines have to say, not just Minneapolis,” said Hopkins Councilwoman Cheryl Youakim.
A single-issue hold-up
In recent months, light rail discussions have been dominated by a single issue: where to put freight rail. The initial plan was to reroute freight rail through St. Louis Park neighborhoods.
But after strong opposition from the city’s residents and elected officials, the Met Council’s influential Corridor Management Committee endorsed a $160 million plan to build two shallow tunnels for the Southwest Light Rail line's passage through the Kenilworth neighborhood of Minneapolis.
That, in turn, led to objections from Kenilworth residents
about noise, traffic and damage to the hydrology of the lake system.
Minneapolis mayor R.T. Rybak warned the city could throw a wrench in the Southwest
LRT project by withholding
municipal consent, and a coalition of Kenilworth
residents began raising money to wage
Last week, Dayton stepped in and asked the Met Council to delay a decision on the line by two to three months. The postponement was met with pleasure by Rybak and Kenilworth residents, although others worried that the lengthened time frame could endanger the project’s chance of earning federal funding.
“We thought this was a more effective way to move ahead than ramming it into a collision, and all the fallout from that, and the further delays that that would cause,” Dayton said at a Tuesday press conference.
The decision to look into the Kenilworth issue further leaves the project without a set process for moving forward. With details still being sketched out, suburban leaders emphasized the need for a process that makes it clear how planners made each decision.
“We had a very good discussion about needing to work together and to make sure that as we go forward the process by which decisions are made about SW are open and transparent,” St. Louis Park Mayor Jeff Jacobs wrote in an e-mail interview. “The public needs to know what's going on with this. On that point there was general agreement.”
The decision to explore the issue further will likely lead to delays, but local officials suggested minimizing the holdup through a dual track process. Under that process, planners would continue work on the rest of the project at the same time they’re examining the Kenilworth issue in greater detail, Minnetonka Mayor Terry Schneider said.
But whatever happens, officials are likely to have to wrestle with controversy again.
“The problem is, there may not be an exact solution that Minneapolis wants,” Schneider said. “All the cities have given up something in the process.”
That’s a message that the suburban leaders emphasized during the discussion. Schneider said he thinks the Minneapolis council will be able to make hard choices once they’re convinced all options have been properly vetted.
“Everybody realizes they can’t get everything,” he said. “Any time you try to run a light rail through five communities—even when you have corridors preserved for that—you’re going to have some impact.”
Youakim said community leaders pointed out what their communities have had to sacrifice. She noted, for example, that Hopkins would lose tax base, businesses and jobs to a light rail maintenance facility.
Schneider said such points weren’t about trading burdens—“I give you this; you give me that.” They were about emphasizing the need to do what’s necessary for the good of the good of the region without being overly burdensome on any one community.
Said Youakim: “I think Minneapolis just wanted to make sure their concerns could be addressed. I thought it could be handled throughout the [pre-existing] municipal consent process. Minneapolis had other thoughts, and I respect that. They’re looking out for their constituents.
And despite the twists and turns, Jacobs remains optimistic that the project will reach the finish line.
“At this point we still have some hurdles to clear but I still hold out a lot of hope that SWLRT will one day be a reality” he wrote. “Not sure how the delay here will affect the timetable or the funding but as things develop with the studies that are going to be done on the potential impact on water quality in the lakes and possible other routes for freight we'll know more.”