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Dayton postpones vote on Southwest LRT to study alternatives

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Gov. Mark Dayton has stepped in on the controversy surrounding the future route of the Southwest light rail line from Minneapolis to Eden Prairie and called for a delay on a crucial vote while more alternatives are sought.

The Star Tribune reports the decision was announced after a meeting Tuesday at the governor's office with metro leaders and lawmakers.

The Metropolitan Council, the agency overseeing the $1.6 billion project, was expected to vote Wednesday on a plan that would send light rail trains through Minneapolis' Kennilworth Corridor in shallow tunnels alongside above-ground freight train traffic. Project construction would force the removal of thousands of trees and bike paths for as much as two years.

The option was rejected by Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak in an advisory panel vote last week.

Another plan would have rerouted the freight trains through St. Louis Park to make way for the new trains, which was strongly opposed by St. Louis Park residents.

Dayton told the Star Tribune that proceeding with the plan over the objections was impractical, considering each of the five cities along the route and the Hennepin County Board of Commissioners would need to approve the plan following the Metropolitan Council's vote.

The governor also pointed out that the light rail's prospects of advancing in the Legislature without approval from Minneapolis were "slim to none."

Over the next 2-3 months, the environmental impact of the shallow tunnel option and new route alternatives will be explored, according to Dayton.

KARE 11 reports the environmental study aims to reassure Minneapolis residents and city officials that water quality in Cedar Lake and Lake of the Isles won't be affected by the construction in the Kenilworth corridor.

KSTP noted if a decision isn't made soon, the state is at risk of losing federal money earmarked for the project.

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