ST. LOUIS PARK, Minn. – After years of planning and months of controversy, a Metropolitan Council advisory committee approved digging shallow tunnels as part of the Southwest Corridor Light Rail Project. The vote of the Corridor Management Committee was 11-2, with only Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges and Commissioner Matt Look in the negative.
The Committee approved a plan recommended by Southwest Planners to have two shallow tunnels through the Kenilworth Trail Corridor of Minneapolis. The tunnels would surface to cross a channel between Cedar Lake and Lake of the Isles on a bridge. The Committee also approved reinstating the Mitchell Station at the western terminus of the line in Eden Prairie.
"This is about a fundamental failure of fairness," said Hodges. St. Louis Park is going to get everything they want. Minneapolis, on the other hand, and what you are asking me to do right now on behalf of Minneapolis is to lose on absolutely everything we cared about and put forward."
Hennepin County Commissioner Peter McLaughlin, a member of the Committee, took issue with Hodges.
"I find just astounding the statement from the Mayor that Minneapolis is losing on everything when there is going to be a line that is going to bring thousands and thousands of people into Minneapolis," said McLaughlin. "To say that Minneapolis has lost on everything they care about fails to keep an eye on what the real prize is here, which is a regional transportation system that promotes economic prosperity and provides economic opportunity for the people of our region."
Prior to the vote, Committee Chair Susan Haigh entertained dozens of citizen comments in a public hearing at the Beth El Synagogue in Saint Louis Park. Charges of racism toward plan opponents came from one speaker, while several told of experiences in the affected neighborhoods. Gale Miller of Saint Louis Park told the Committee "Nobody wants this crap in their neighborhood, but somebody is going to get it."
The Southwest Light Rail line is to pass through five cities on its 15.8 mile run: Minneapolis, Saint Louis Park, Hopkins, Minnetonka and Eden Prairie. The cost of the project rose with the addition of the tunnels and the Mitchell Station from $1.55 billion to and estimated $1.68 billion.
The additional work will also extend the opening date of the SWLRT from 2018 to 2019.
Governor Dayton said Wednesday that failure of the project would be "seriously damaging" to public transit in the area. He said there was "no ideal resolution" to Minneapolis' concerns with he said could "quash the whole project." Dayton said the question should be resolved "one way or the other" by June 30.
The consortium of Counties that is funding 30 percent of the project set a June 30 deadline for approval of a plan. Federal funding is paying for half of the project.
The recommendation of the Corridor Management Committee was delivered Wednesday afternoon to the full Metropolitan Council which is to vote on the plan on April 9.