Key approvals: Southwest light rail plan lurches forward

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The plan to bring light rail service to the southwest metro remained on track Wednesday when four cities on the route begrudgingly approved a deal Minneapolis struck with the Metropolitan Council.

An advisory panel that includes officials from Eden Prairie, St. Louis Park, Hopkins and Minnetonka voted to approve the new deal, which allows Minneapolis to collect as much as $30 million in special improvements to its portion of the line.

Several leaders from the other cities expressed jealousy over the deal Minneapolis reached, but they agreed to approve it anyway, MPR News reports.

If the other cities want special improvements, they would have to compete for contingency money if any is left over.

If there is no money left over, “does that mean that we ... get nothing and Minneapolis gets $30 million?” Eden Prairie Mayor Nancy Tyra-Lukens asked, the Star Tribune reported.

The approvals were a key part of keeping the Southwest Light Rail plan moving forward as the five cities on the route continue to hammer out the project details. The action set up a final vote by the Minneapolis City Council on Aug. 29, although that could be delayed until September, the Star Tribune notes.

The controversial $1.6 billion, nearly 16-mile route would connect Minneapolis and Eden Prairie and be the most expensive transit project in Minnesota history.

The new deal reached this week between the Met Council, which is managing the project, and Minneapolis, changes a controversial plan to bury the light rail in two shallow tunnels between Cedar Lake and Lake of the Isles. The deal would eliminate one tunnel and run it at ground level.

The tunnels plan had been proposed after Minneapolis lost a battle to reroute freight traffic from the Kenilworth corridor to St. Louis Park. Kenilworth residents object to having the light rail and freight trains run side-by-side through their backyards between Cedar Lake and Lake of the Isles.

Eliminating the tunnel would save $30 million, but the deal Minneapolis negotiated would commit the savings to improvements, including creating pedestrian and bike accesses to Minneapolis stations and improving a "parklike environment" of the corridor, the Star Tribune notes.

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