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Gov. Dayton includes LRT on his bonding wish list

Gov. Mark Dayton
MinnPost/Bill Kelley
Gov. Mark Dayton

UPDATE: As expected, DFL Gov. Mark Dayton included in the $775 million bonding package he recommended Tuesday $25 million for the $1.25 billion Southwest Corridor light-rail transit (LRT) line being planned between downtown Minneapolis and Eden Prairie.

The $25 million, requested by the Metropolitan Council and its project partners, represents a modest contribution toward the state's 10-percent share of the project's cost. The state already has provided $5 million, and another $95 million commitment would still be needed.

The Counties Transit Improvement Board (CTIB) is on board to pay 30 percent of the cost from its five-county, quarter-cent sales tax and Hennepin County will pay another 10 percent.

All of these state and local commitments must be in hand before the Met Council can seek Federal Transit Administration (FTA) approval to begin final design of the project and apply for the 50 percent matching federal funds needed for construction. The council's target date to begin final design is 2013, which could be politically challenging to achieve.

Last September, the FTA gave its approval for the council to begin preliminary engineering on the project. Among perhaps 100 transit projects on the drawing boards around the country, Southwest is one of just a dozen to achieve this status. This indicates that Southwest is "a sound and viable project," said Met Chair Chair Susan Haigh.

17 stations
As currently proposed, the 15-mile line would have 17 stations and run from Eden Prairie to downtown Minneapolis, connecting with the Hiawatha LRT, Central LRT and Northstar commuter rail line near Target Field. By 2030, it would carry about 30,000 riders per weekday, comparable to current Hiawatha ridership.

The Met Council and its allies have their work cut out for them in securing state funding. The Republican-controlled Minnesota House and Senate are heavily populated with members who are opposed to funding transit in general and rail transit in particular.

Rep. Mike Beard, R-Shakopee, chair of the House Transportation Policy and Finance Committee, has vowed to stop Southwest LRT "dead in its tracks."

On Friday, Senate Majority Leader David Senjem, R-Rochester, and House Speaker Kurt Zellers, R-Maple Grove, participated in a legislative breakfast held by the Twin West Chamber of Commerce. The 1,000-member group represents businesses in much of suburban Hennepin County, and strongly supports the Southwest Corridor project.

Both Senjem and Zellers were politely noncommittal when asked about whether they support the project, with Zellers adding that it might be "hard to get included" in this year's bonding bill.

Sen. David Senjem
Sen. David Senjem

Bill Schreiber, a lobbyist for Hennepin County and CTIB, said after the meeting that project supporters have been taking key legislators on tours of the corridor and talking about the benefits of the line.

"I think the responses have been quite positive — particularly in light of the strong support of the business community," Schreiber said.

In its 2012 legislative agenda, the Twin West Chamber says "the Twin Cities needs a regional, multi-modal transportation system" and urges the Legislature to commit the state funding needed for Southwest.

Gearing up
Meanwhile, the Met Council is gearing up to begin preliminary engineering on the line, a process that will require about two years. It is preparing to:

• Lease 22,000 square feet of space for a project office in the Park Place West office building, located near I-394 between Hwys. 100 and 169. The lease would run for just over seven years, starting March 1, at a cost not to exceed $3.6 million.

• Expend $1.975 million to furnish the office and install computers, printers, telephones and related equipment.

• Put in place a staff of 45, of which six top positions already have been filled, and hire a major consulting firm to provide engineering services. Proposals for engineering services already have been solicited and the contract is scheduled to be awarded in March.

Mark Fuhrmann, rail projects director for the council, said Friday that the council has local funding commitments of $47 million to help move the project along.

With the proposals for engineering services still under review, Fuhrmann said he does not know how far the $47 million would carry the project if the $25 million requested from the state is not approved this year.

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Comments (2)

I’m a rail advocate myself, but I don’t live near anything likely to be light rail during what remains of my lifetime. I’ll take the NorthStar train to Target Field for Twins games, but otherwise, I avoid driving downtown when I can – it’s not a friendly place for drivers who haven’t lived here their whole lives.

The next couple years ought to be very interesting as we see how the southwest LRT proposal plays out. If the preponderance of business leaders and interests in that area support the line as strongly as the article suggests, it may well devolve into a contest between serving the state’s citizens (and remember, corporations are people now) or adhering to an ideology. That might not be – I’d say it shouldn’t be – a comfortable place for a legislator to find him/herself in.

Having a background in railroading. The powers that be need to look back an see how the Twin Cities were built. There are fixed rail lines radiating like spokes. If the idea is to move people from the Suburbs to jobs and entertainment in the city use the fix lines already in place. Lease the lines, and the equipment. You could have a line from Delano through Wayzata, Minnetonka(with bus service to Ridgedale)and on throug Saint Louis Park and on to the warehouse district. Want to get from Eden Praire, heck lets start in Chaska. There already is a fixed line taking you through Eden Praire, Hopkins,Saint Louis Park and yes right to the warehouse district. Now how about those who live south of the river. You could start in Shakopee, go through Bloomington, Eden Prairie, Edina, Saint Louis Park and again The Warehouse District. The Minnesota Department of Transportation has the maps.

The cost of building a Light Rail line through some of the most expensive property in the Cites will end up costing more than anyone project. And then there are the neighborhoods. Not in my backyard. Especially when there already is a railroad line.