Dedication. Tenacity. Passion. Community leaders from across the region acclaimed these traits in the people whose work led to the Southwest Light Rail ceremonial groundbreaking on Nov. 30, 2018. One person perfectly embodied these words as she sat on the edge of the ceremony holding a conference report from 1980.
“I can't believe that it was 1980 when I was Mayor of St. Louis Park and attended the conference referred to as Light Rail Transit: A Solution for the Twin Cities?” said Phyllis McQuaid, also a former state senator. “I was totally overwhelmed at the possibility of having LRT in St. Louis Park! I have stayed involved in the issue, watching the other lines get built — and began to despair of ever seeing it open here.
“So, needless to say, this day was a thrill to me and perhaps I will see LRT available here. I am 90 years old so probably won't ever ride it but just watching it being built is going to be great!”
Leaders emphasize importance of partnerships, access to opportunity
Hopkins Mayor Molly Cummings welcomed the hundreds of onlookers to the gathering at the future Operations and Maintenance Facility in Hopkins. She emphasized that despite changes in staff, councils and leadership across the years, the torch has never been dropped and that the region continues to work together to propel this project forward.
“We are standing here together today because the entire region pulled together to make the vision of Southwest Light Rail Transit a reality,” said Metropolitan Council Chair Alene Tchourumoff. “We’re making history today because we’re adding the infrastructure to connect people to opportunity. And, in doing so, we’re building a more equitable region for everyone.”
After almost 20 years of planning, the groundbreaking marks the work of partnerships with federal, county and local governments, and organizations and members of the communities all along the line. Project partners held hundreds of meetings, and people made thousands of comments providing invaluable feedback that made the plans for this line community-driven and inclusive.
Mayor Cummings and Chair Tchourumoff were joined on the dais by U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar, U.S. Senator Tina Smith, U.S. Congressman Keith Ellison, Minnesota House Speaker-elect Melissa Hortman, Hennepin County Board Chair Jan Callison, Hennepin County Commissioner Peter McLaughlin, Metropolitan Council Member Gail Dorfman, and Minneapolis Chamber of Commerce President & CEO Jonathan Weinhagen.
Senator Smith extols economic benefits of Southwest LRT
Our newest Senator, Tina Smith, has a long history with the project. “I first started working on this project when I was chief of staff in [Minneapolis] city hall, then worked on it as lieutenant governor, and now to be able to be here to celebrate with all of you as your United States Senator has a wonderful resonance,” she said. “Already we have seen almost half a billion dollars in economic development happen in anticipation of this project, and we expect that this is going to expand to over $2 billion in economic development opportunities.”
Many of the speakers echoed Sen. Smith’s remarks about the jobs and economic development that have already emerged along the line and the future opportunities that will connect people to jobs, education and all these communities have to offer. Several speakers also emphasized that the project couldn’t have happened without the dogged determination of Commissioner McLaughlin.
“It’s important that we think about the whole region in making this happen,” he said. “This whole system doesn’t get built without a gigantic coalition and you can see it here in front of us.” Commissioner McLaughlin also acknowledged labor and trades who have built these lines and will build SWLRT, while thanking businesses for their involvement. “Every line that we’ve built, business has stepped forward and said we need this for the future of our state, our economy, our businesses and our employees.”
The groundbreaking celebrates a significant milestone in the Southwest Light Rail project, and there is much more work yet to be done as the project heads into construction over the next several years and then operation. The support of the region, its leaders and the people who live, work and play in these communities continues to be an important ingredient in making this line a success.
More from the groundbreaking event
About Southwest Light Rail
The $2.003 billion project will be the largest infrastructure project in the state’s history and is expected to create 7,500 construction jobs, with an estimated $350 million payroll. SWLRT is a 14.5-mile line with 16 stations serving Minneapolis, St. Louis Park, nearby Edina, Hopkins, Minnetonka and Eden Prairie.
Once open, it’s expected to see weekday ridership of 34,000. In 2014, there were approximately 64,300 jobs within a half mile of the proposed stations and 126,800 jobs in downtown Minneapolis. By 2035, employment is expected to grow to 80,900 within a half mile of the proposed stations and 145,300 in downtown Minneapolis — an 18% jump in employment. The population along the line outside of downtown Minneapolis is expected to grow by 56% from 2014 to 2035.