SAINT PAUL, Minn. – The Metropolitan Council voted 14-2 to approve the plan for the Southwest Corridor Light Rail project. The plan had been the subject of considerable debate and controversy for months.
The plan is for a 16 station, 15.8 mile line costing $1.68 billion. It is to be finished and open in 2019. The plan includes two shallow tunnels to carry the LRT trains through the Kenilworth Corridor of Minneapolis. There is to be "co-location" with an existing freight rail line through the Kenilworth.
Trail users on the Kenilworth bike and hiking trail were unhappy, but resigned to the vote.
"I do not know how they (opponents) can fight it at this point," said Tim Kane of Minneapolis.
"It would be disruptive, definitely change up a lot of things," added Andrew Geisen of Minneapolis.
Earlier, during a public hearing before the Met Council vote, Saint Louis Park activists, who successfully fought off plans to re-route freight traffic through their city, were content.
"Please vote yes for the resolution before you today," pleaded Jamie LaPray, Co-chair of the group 'Safety in the Park', "Let us make co-location a done deal." She got her wish.
The SWLRT is to be the third leg of a metro-wide light rail transit system, following the Hiawatha (blue line) and the Central Corridor (green line). The Federal Government is to pay half of the total cost of the Southwest line.
"I believe this is an opportunity train," said Commissioner Jennifer Munt of Minnetonka. "I believe that the people who live along the line can help us realize the full potential."
However, one of the two Met Council Commissioners who voted against the project plan, was Gary Cunningham of Minneapolis. He is married to Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges who opposes the shallow tunnel plan.
"The Governor (Dayton) was right when he said the process, in terms of planning, has been flawed," said Cunningham, "and that it actually created the situation that we find ourselves in today."
Next, the Met Council will hold a series of meetings with Hennepin County and the five cities along the SWLRT route to "seek" their consent to the plan. Minneapolis is clearly opposed, but it is not clear if their consent is legally required for the Met Council to move forward with the project.