Met Council approves Southwest light-rail plan

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The Metropolitan Council gave the green light to the Southwest light-rail project on a 14-2 vote Wednesday afternoon, despite continuing objections from the city of Minneapolis.

The $1.6 billion light rail line will run about 16 miles from downtown Minneapolis through St. Louis Park, Hopkins, Minnetonka and Eden Prairie.

The approved plan calls for the proposed light rail to run in two shallow tunnels through the Kenliworth recreation area of Minneapolis. The light-rail trains will emerge from the tunnels for about 20 seconds on a new bridge over the channel between Cedar Lake and Lake of the Isles.

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Last week, leaders from the affected communities voted in favor of the tunnel plan, despite opposition from Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges. On Tuesday, Gov. Mark Dayton said although the plan is flawed, it's the "only option" for the light rail to move forward, according to the Star Tribune.

“There does not appear to be any other viable alternative to what the council will be considering,” Dayton told the newspaper. “It’s the only option for the line to go forward, and I support the line going forward."

Another option being pushed by Minneapolis officials was to reroute freight traffic through St. Louis Park, but that proposal was rejected.

One of the Met Council members who voted against the plan is Gary Cunningham, who is married to Mayor Hodges, MPR News reports. The other "no" vote came from Wendy Wulff of Lakeville, who said alternatives to the tunnel plan had not been given enough consideration, the Star Tribune reports.

Disputes over the light rail have already cost the project millions of dollars and delayed the projected opening date by a year or more. Further delays could cause federal funding to disappear, Dayton told the Star Tribune. Hennepin County Commissioner Peter McLaughlin told MPR News that federal money would fund nearly half the proposed project.

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Not all of Minneapolis is opposed to the tunnel option. On Tuesday, people living in North Minneapolis put pressure on Hodges to support the Southwest light-rail plan and avoid further delays, according to KSTP. North side residents say the light rail would give them more job opportunities by allowing them to travel outside of the city as well as bring development to their neighborhoods, KSTP says.

The next step forward is the "municipal consent" process, where Hennepin County and all five cities impacted by the light rail will have to agree on the plan by the end of June in order to stay on track. Given the opposition from Minneapolis, that city may decide to withhold its consent.

Residents of the Kenilworth neighborhood have said they would consider taking legal action to stop the shallow tunnel plan.

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