The new edition of Democratic Visions features an update on the funding status of Southwest Light Rail (SWLRT) from local sources and the Federal Transportation Administration. It’s complicated, but Met Council Member and public transit champion Jennifer Munt makes it understandable. Munt represents Met Council Dist. 3 which includes west metro cities in the Lake Minnetonka area including Eden Prairie and Minnetonka through which the Green Line extension and its passenger stations will be built.
I here share a few thoughts of my own. The snippy cult of opponents to the Southwest Light Rail project, based along what had been a freight rail line and switching yard between Cedar Lake and Lake of the Isles (Minneapolis), with its nuisance environmental law suit continues to generate copy for MinnPost and the StarTribune. The NIMBYs, some of whom are, reportedly, influential Democrats, are encouraged by Republican legislators including House Speaker Kurt Daudt, Senate President Michelle Fischbach, and transportation committee chairs Paul Torkelson, Linda Runbeck and Scott Newman. For their own purposes, these GOPers have deceitfully re-branded SWLRT into a wedge issue about the cost of light rail, funding priorities and urban/rural inequity. Their shenanigans have generated even more copy at MinnPost and The Strib whose news and editorial sections love to show renderings of various plans of the new bridge that will cross the channel between Lake of the Isles and Cedar Lake. It’s as if Southwest Light Rail has no other importance. Here’s one of those renderings.
Would that the photo editors at the StarTribune and MinnPost select other SWLRT images. There are scores of them: stations, bridges, parking ramps and landscaping plans along the alignment through Minneapolis, St. Louis Park, Hopkins, Minnetonka and Eden Prairie. Believe it or not, the Green Line Extension beyond the Kenilworth Corridor actually edges North Minneapolis and penetrates job rich centers in the south west ‘burbs. But maybe selecting images from a Met Council or city website on a desktop or laptop is really, really difficult, maybe even exhausting. But maybe not. I found these pics earlier today in about 15 minutes.
Back to Minnesota Senate and House Republicans. A March 17, 2017 letter signed by 84 of 111 of them, urged Transportation Secretary Elaine L. Chao to deny the $895M federal match that the Southwest Light Rail project is slated for approval. Their letter boils with the righteous certitude of drunks in a saloon argument working their smart phones for “facts” that are not really facts. For the record, Secretary Chao, according to Met Council member Munt, agreed with Governor Dayton’s clarifying response to the Daudt/Fishbach mischief. The Green Line Extension remains very much in play for the federal matching grant.
The letter and a bundle of anti light rail GOP bills are an assault on years of community-inclusive planning led first by Hennepin County and then the Met Council for the 15-mile line.
Senator David Osmek (R., Mound) supports these bad bills and signed the letter to Secretary Chao. Osmek, who may be dreaming of a governorship, has described Southwest Light Rail as a “liberal wet dream” apparently for the enlightenment of a St. Louis Park resident and a StarTribune reporter.
Earlier this session, Osmek had considered a bill requesting the Federal Transportation Administration to shift its SWLRT matching funds to Minnesota roads and bridges (an impossibility) and is among the posse of GOP pols that claim that because the Met Council is not elected, projects like SWLRT are jammed down our collective throat with little local input. That is false.
I’ve been periodically questioning aspects of the Green Line extension for nearly 16 years. I’ve seen the project embrace input from individuals and groups, municipal and county elected and planning officials, and Chambers of Commerce and businesses. In spite of its opponents, the project has deep and broad support. United Health Group has even donated (designated) 3.5 acres of its property valued at about $2.45M for one of the Eden Prairie stations. And, guess what, Senator Osmek works for a division of United Health Group, but at the capitol yelps like a coyote against a project that will serve his own employer and his suburban neighbors.
Southwest Light Rail will open up quality employment opportunities for those without cars and has already stimulated $515 million in development. Surveys show that millennials, students and senior citizens want light rail. Some studies find that over the long haul, when all construction and operational costs are considered, light rail can be less expensive than bus transit.
SWLRT will be integrated into a system of commuter and feeder bus services from Chanhassen to Minneapolis. High level and preliminary planning with Southwest Transit and Metro Transit bus systems is already in play. For more information visit the Southwest Transit website. www.SWLRT.org
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