MN Republicans to feds: Keep your $900M in light rail funding

State lawmakers who have fought against a Twin Cities light rail project are urging the U.S. not to fund it.
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More than 80 Republicans in the legislature are urging the U.S. government to keep about $900 million the Transportation Department is thinking about sending to Minnesota to build a light rail line.

The $1.8 billion line connecting Minneapolis with suburbs to the southwest has been in the planning stages for years. It's nearing the end of that process and the Twin Cities agency overseeing it hopes the feds will agree to cover half the cost so construction of the 14-mile line can start by the end of the year.

But the lawmakers' letter to Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao calls it a "grossly wasteful project" and argues against any federal funding for it. They say the light rail line is not a good use of money and comes with some environmental concerns.

Most of those who signed it are from outside the Twin Cities area and all of them are Republicans. The letter was posted online by MPR News.

Gov. Mark Dayton, a Democrat who supports the rail line, tells the network canceling the project would lead to "nighmarish" traffic jams in the southwestern Twin Cities. "It's going to constrict the economic vitality of this entire region which affects the entire state," Dayton said. "So, it's very short-sighted."

Change in Washington could be a factor

The Metropolitan Council, which runs Metro Transit, is planning the line between Minneapolis and Eden Prairie. Its critics in the Legislature have fought against the project, blocking state funding for it.

But the Green Line Extension, as the Met Council calls it, has moved ahead on the strength of local funding. The federal government has signaled, as recently as December, that's it's on board with the project, too.

But there have been some changes in Washington this year. The Trump administration is generally seen as less friendly to public transit than President Obama was. The Star Tribune notes that grants like the $900 million Minnesota might get would disappear under President Trump's budget recommendation.

Less transit money from the state Capitol, too

Regardless of whether the new rail line gets built, the Republican majority in Minnesota's legislature is sending the message that it wants the state to spend less on transit.

The transportation bill rolled out by the House GOP this week emphasizes highways and it would cut transit funding to the Metropolitan Council by $53 million, Session Daily reports.

It would also prohibit local governments from doing any studies or construction of new light rail transit unless they get approval from the state legislature.

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