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southwest light rail

SWLRT: Spring 2017 Update

by JeffStrate on May 15, 2017 · 0 comments

 

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.

One of several design plans that have been considered or the light rail transit bridge in the Kenilworth Corridor.

One of several design plans that have been considered for the light rail transit bridge in the Kenilworth Corridor.

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.

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SWLRT Stations - N Mpls

 

The late spring edition of Democratic Visions features a discussion with transit equity advocate Kenya McKnight Ahad and myself on Southwest Light Rail, public transit and North Minneapolis.  There had been hopes that the Minnesota State Legislature would, before end-of-session, appropriate $135 million dollars for the project through bonding or at least pass a bill that would enable other agencies such as the Hennepin County Regional Railroad Authority to raise that amount.  That $135 million, the State’s comparatively small share of the $1.79 billion dollar project, is needed to complete a match to qualify Southwest Light Rail for $895 million dollars from the Federal Transit Administration.

 

Three Chambers of Commerce, the city councils of Minneapolis, St. Louis Park, Hopkins, Minnetonka and Eden Prairie and most of the neighborhoods along the planned alignment are now hoping that a special legislative session will provide the $135 million along with, of course, other transportation needs.  During transportation, transit and infrastructure bill manuverings in the Legislature and opposition by some folks along the Kenilworth Corridor in Minneapolis and the Claremont residential complex in Minnetonka, media discussion of the impact of light rail and improved bus transit on North Minneapolis has been non-existent. I argue that North Minneapolitans will have the most to lose should lawmakers fail to act positively.  During our discussion, Kenya McKnight Ahad advises that good transit studies and plans incorporating light rail and improved bus connections for North Minneapolis within its corner of the metro area and beyond already exist.  What doesn’t exist, Ahad says, is a dependable manner and commitment to fund the plans.  This segment runs about 22 minutes.

 

On YouTube

North Minneapolis, transit equity and Southwest Light Rail –

 

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Bloomington – BCAT Channel 16 — Tuesdays at 2:00 p.m. & 10:00 p.m.; Fridays at 9:30 p.m.; Saturdays at 7:30 a.m. & 2:30 p.m.

 

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Democratic  Visions is hand made by unpaid volunteers from Edina, Eden Prairie, Minnetonka, Hopkins and Bloomington.  Our program is not financially supported or endorsed by any political party, political action committee or special interest group.

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Proposed SWLRT route

A special edition of Democratic Visions considers the challenges to and future of the Southwest Light Rail Project

 

Among electeds, Hennepin County Commissioner Peter McLaughlin remains one of the strongest voices for an up-to-date public transit system in the Twin Cities metro area.  McLaughlin chairs The Hennepin County Regional Railroad Authority and the Counties Transportation Improvement Board.  The HCRRA has committed to fund 10% and the CTIB, 30% of the Southwest Light Rail Transit project being planned to connect Eden Prairie, Minnetonka, Hopkins, Saint Louis Park and the west lakes district of Minneapolis and the southern fringe of North Minneapolis to the Blue and Green LRT lines at Target Field.  The State of Minnesota will shovel-in 10%.  The plan has been to qualify for Federal Transportation Agency monies which would account for 50% of the project.   But, dear possums, as we all know, its complicated.   SWLRT  now involves a $2 billion price tag, an upset Governor Dayton, transit equity activists in North Minneapolis and Eden Prairie, economic growth, law suits, 5 cities, three exurban counties and Hennepin and Ramsey, anti-rail buzzards along Kenilworth and Eden Prairie LRT alignments, pro-LRT businesses and employers along the entire route, the Met Council, the EPA and scores of anonymous trolls in the reader comments sections of the Strib.    Without interference from pundits, Peter McLaughlin and host Tim O’Brien measure the challenges to and the promise of the troubled project in a special edition of Democratic Visions.  Long time SWLRT and bus transit proponent Eden Prairie Mayor Nancy Tyra-Lukens, also provides her perspective on likely station cuts noting that thousands of jobs will remain too difficult to get to for public transit dependent people along SWLRT corridor.
 
The Future of Southwest Light Rail here on YouTube –  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6veY7cI5FZ0

 

Two Frustrated State Legislators
 
Currently playing on various cable systems (see below) the late spring edition of  Democratic Visions features two, sharp, southwest suburban DFL law makers and a smart, very funny example of what a truly honest U.S. Senatorial campaign ad might look like.
 
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The Central Corridor reach of the Green Line light rail service begins shortly after the Saturday 9 a.m. ceremonial ribbon cutting at Saint Paul’s Union Depot and continues throughout the day with events at various stations.  I am amused that The Current radio station is producing a day-long line up of live music performances in celebration of the opening.  The broadcaster is owned and operated by Minnesota Public Radio which continues to haggle with the Met Council about vibrations caused by LRT trains passing by some of their Cedar Street studios.  The light rail project has paid for sound insulated windows and a special track bed featuring a concrete slab that “floats” on hard rubber pads to reduce vibrations.

An aside:  Me thinks that the MPR board and members should tar and feather the architects and MPR executives who chose to build studios on a street that has long been a candidate for light rail.

The 15.8-mile, southwest half of the Green Line from Target Field to west central Eden Prairie remains in the preliminary planning stage.  It is slated to begin operations in 2019.

The recommended preliminary plan to align light rail and freight rail through the Kenilworth corridor in Minneapolis or (during earlier considerations) routing freight rail through St. Louis Park, has so fascinated the scribes at the StarTribune and MinnPost and local television news assignment desks that Hopkins, Minnetonka and Eden Prairie have attracted minimal reportorial interest.  Journalistic coverage of southwest suburban light rail issues has only been generated by Sun and Eden Prairie News community weeklies and occasionally by the excellent Finance & Commerce.

That changed somewhat last week when MinnPost and a few other news outlets woke up and realized that the southwest light rail project was also passing through Minnetonka.  The City of Minnetonka held its SWLRT “municipal consent” public hearing on the preliminary route and station location within its boundaries on Monday June 2nd.  Residents and owners of the stately looking Claremont Apartment complex were among those who requested a slight re-route and an LRT station.

The current alignment in their neighborhood cuts along the top of a forested escarpment within earshot of the south side of the rambling apartment complex.  Even though residents and owners have had more than a decade’s worth of SWLRT community meetings to lobby for an alignment and (more recently) a chance to sit on the project’s citizens advisory committee, it seems that few if any of them were dutiful in representing their interests in an ongoing manner to City of Minnetonka and SWLRT planners.

That said, the purpose of the municipal consent hearings in each of the five SWLRT cities is to provide residents and businesses at this early stage of the project another formal opportunity to comment on track alignments and station locations to possibly make them better.  Both elements, of course, are subject to environmental, cost, safety, engineering and political concerns.  Minnetonka Mayor Terry Schneider and his City Council colleagues and staff will seriously consider the Claremont requests but unlike Minneapolis, Minnetonka will not stop the entire light rail project for a local problem that is either unsolvable or could be fixed after the municipal consent votes.

The Strib and Finance & Commerce also reported on the Minnetonka hearing but they and the rest of the regional media ignored the far livelier municipal consent hearing in Eden Prairie on May 22.  The embedded video is my take on that hearing and is featured in the current edition of Democratic Visions, the independent, cable access and Internet program I produce with help from other un-paid volunteers.  (See below for cable schedule.)

I was interested in the tone and content of my hometown’s municipal consent hearing.  With our in-your-face, right wing Republican Party and Tea Party operatives, Eden Prairie politics are edgier than those of our suburban neighbors.  EP right wingers have attacked light rail as vigorously as the anti-light rail, DFL insiders and PBS liberals along the Kenilworth Corridor.   Who would have thunk it? –  Bill Moyers-viewing NIMBY’s in Kenwood and Fox-TV News addicts in Eden Prairie on missions with the same goal – kill light rail.  From reading their respective rants light rail, one can assume that light rail transit would be as sure an end to La Vida Buena Minnesota as an Al Qaeda take over of the Aquatennial.

Municipal consent kinds of public hearings do attract folks who have reasonable requests for change as well as the smug, self-involved, anti-government, Bill O’Reilly populists of our times.  This was the case at the Eden Prairie hearing.  Local bullhorns Sheila Kihne, Donna Azarian, Frank Lorenz and Steve Smith spoke of their disdain for light rail.  Collectively, they were an unintended homage to that academe situated, Groucho Marx warbled tune “What ever it is I’m against it” from the 1932 comedy “Horse Feathers.”

The foursome and their confederates applauded one another after each one’s respective turn at the podium; it is one that faces the officious Eden Prairie City Council bench of department chiefs and electeds including the adept and cordial Mayor, Nancy Tyra-Lukens.  The LRT opponents did generate a few laughs but employed O’Reilly inspired rhetorical tricks.  Bill, however is a highly paid pro.

Attending the hearing too, was a smaller but much more realistic and reasonable crowd of pro-LRT representatives from Eden Prairie’s business and minority communities.  They and a majority of all Eden Prairians (according to a City of EP survey) do want light rail to serve Eden Prairie.

 

Democratic Visions Cable-TV Schedule –

Minneapolis – MTN Channel 16 – Sundays at 8:30 p.m., Mondays 3:30 a.m., 9:30 a.m., 2:30 p.m.

Hopkins, Minnetonka, Edina, Richfield and Eden Prairie – Comcast Channel 15 – Sundays at 9 p.m., Mondays at 10:00 p.m. and Wednesdays at 5:30 p.m.

Bloomington – BCAT Cable Channel 16 – Tuesdays at 2:00 p.m. & 10:00 p.m.; Fridays at 9:30 p.m.; Saturdays at 7:30 a.m. & 2:30 p.m.

YouTube’s Democratic Visions Channel boasts nearly 200, finely produced videos

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