Messages from the Council Chair

Southwest LRT: Building a line that stands the test of time

August 2013

The Southwest light rail line (future METRO Green Line extension) offers us an opportunity to accelerate the already positive economic momentum of the greater Twin Cities region while simultaneously moving our regional transit system closer to being the modern, intermodal system residents desire.
Council Chair Susan Haigh
Our vision is to build a line that will connect the projected 30,000 daily riders to the 210,000 jobs currently located along the route and the additional 60,000 jobs anticipated along the corridor. Southwest, when finished in 2018, will connect people living in communities from Eden Prairie to St. Paul to these jobs via a one-seat ride.

The challenges in designing this line are many. Not only does the line require complicated engineering to span wetlands and other geological features, it must also bisect long-established urban areas with minimal disruption.

But ask anyone involved with designing the METRO Blue Line (Hiawatha) or Green Line (Central Corridor) and they’ll tell you that both rail lines involved equally difficult decisions. Designing a rail line is no easy task, and Southwest LRT is no exception.  

Tentative SWLRT Decision Schedule

Information/discussion sessions on route options
9/11 – Southwest LRT Corridor Management Committee
9/11 – Metropolitan Council
9/18 – Southwest LRT Corridor Management Committee  CANCELED
9/25 - Informational Southwest  LRT Corridor Management Committee Meeting
10/10 - Southwest Project Office to hold a public open house for the public to ask questions and give feedback on the draft recommendation on the project scope and basic design before the Metropolitan Council considers. The open house will be from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. at Kenwood Community Center, 2101 West Franklin Ave., Minneapolis. No testimony or presentations are planned. The public will be able to talk with Metropolitan Council Sue Haigh and other Council members, as well as project engineers and staff one-to-one, view engineering drawings of the shallow tunnels and fill out comment cards.

Action on preferred route option
10/2 – Southwest LRT Corridor Management Committee

Vote on final scope and cost
 TBD

 

This project was first conceived decades ago, and the thorough and deliberative process of choosing a route began in 2003. That process eliminated route options along Highway 100, Midtown Greenway and Nicollet Avenue for three very important reasons that are still true today: lack of adequate right-of-way to operate a train, significant impact to historic resources, and serious disruption to major business districts.

The chosen route for Southwest light rail is the right choice, and residents and businesses along the corridor deserve a final decision on the associated freight rail project so they can make plans for their lives and communities that incorporate this project.

What those involved in earlier light rail lines will also tell you is that the considerable benefits realized, thanks to the investment in rail, outweigh the cost of overcoming challenges earlier in the process. Today, Hiawatha is part of our regional fabric with roughly 15,000 new housing units built along the corridor since it opened. The line serves more than 30,000 riders each day.

Central Corridor experienced the revitalization of streetscapes and storefronts and continues to see the redevelopment of long-abandoned properties along University Avenue as we approach the line’s opening day.

The five communities along the Southwest line are as eager for this type of development potential as residents are for the opportunity to ease commutes.

The Metropolitan Council is committed to building a light rail system that stands the test of time, which is why we’ve identified eight workable alternatives for addressing the secondary project and most controversial issue associated with the construction of Southwest light rail – the location of freight rail in St. Louis Park or the Kenilworth corridor.

We’ve received thousands of comments on this issue and what is apparent is how much these individuals care about their neighborhoods, community and region. The vast majority of communications I’ve received on the topic start out with “I support Southwest light rail” before sharing concerns or questions.

Along with the mayors and county commissioners and other local government officials who sit on the Southwest Corridor Management Committee, I came to the conclusion that to build this project right, we need a little more time to evaluate options, consider comments and deliberate on the solution.

No one is under the illusion that more time for a decision involving hundreds of millions of dollars and requiring complex engineering will make this an easy decision or a unanimous decision, but I hope every resident who participated in the process feels heard and that their proposed solutions were seriously considered.

In the coming weeks, my priority is to seek consensus on the Corridor Management Committee and ultimately, the Metropolitan Council, around a solution that contains costs while maintaining high ridership, meeting the needs of the five communities along the line, and addressing the concerns of adjacent neighborhoods. To do that, project planners at the Council will spend additional time developing answers to questions about natural resources near the route, connections to other transit corridors, and other project cost concerns.

The Council, Hennepin County and all six communities near the line have a responsibility to look under every rock and to trim project costs to the essential elements necessary to meet the goal of balancing local interests with the overarching regional objectives of cost containment, mobility, ridership, and economic development.

The democratic process of publicly vetting multiple options for solving our most challenging issues on this light rail line may look messy and painful, but it is the best possible process. With the input of residents and policymakers, this project is stronger and will be built to last.