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Met Council, Minneapolis turn to ‘facilitator’ for Southwest LRT solution

It’s not clear at this point what elbows the mediator could twist or carrots he could offer to bring the two sides together.

The map above shows the preliminary design for track alignment and stations as approved by the Metropolitan Council in April 2014.
Courtesy of the Metropolitan Council

In a joint statement to MinnPost Monday, the Metropolitan Council and the city of Minneapolis confirmed that in order to “address the situation with SWLRT,” they have agreed to use a “facilitator.” They chose Arthur J. Boylan, retired chief magistrate judge for the U.S. District Court.   

In case you don’t recall, the “situation” is this: In early April, the Met Council, over the objections of Minneapolis, voted 14 to 2 to endorse a route for the $1.68 billion Southwest light rail train that would keep freight trains in the Kenilworth Corridor between Cedar Lake and Lake of the Isles and add the light rail line in shallow tunnels. Both Mayor Betsy Hodges and the Minneapolis City Council wanted the freight train to be rerouted to St. Louis Park and/or the LRT to be run through deep tunnels, which would add another $150 million to its cost.  

The next step is municipal consent. All government parties along the line — Minneapolis, St. Louis Park, Hennepin County, the Hennepin County Regional Railroad Authority, Hopkins, Minnetonka and Eden Prairie — must hold public hearings on the plan, take testimony from the public and then vote. The process  may stretch into July. The seven counties are kicking in 40 percent of the cost, and they had  threatened to move to other projects if the issues weren’t resolved by the end of June.

The first hearing, before the HCRRA, was supposed to happen in mid-May but was postponed to May 29. The two-week delay occurred after the Met Council sent Minneapolis a plan for the route that it later said was incorrect. It showed one of the two light-rail tunnels in the Kenilworth corridor built in 13-foot-high berms, which had never previously been included in any public plans. Two weeks passed before the Met Council furnished the correct berm-free plan.  

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Boylan stepped down from the bench at the beginning of the year to start his own mediation practice. As an alternative dispute-resolution neutral for the federal court, he worked on settlements involving medical device, copyright and whistle-blower cases. But his biggest claim to fame was his 2011 mediation of the labor dispute between the National Football League and its players. He was assigned the case in April and wrapped it up in July.

It’s not clear at this point what elbows Boylan could twist or carrots he could offer to bring the two sides together. The NFL and the players, after all, had dozens of issues on which both sides could give and take. Perhaps the Met Council could add back the 21st Street station it deleted in Minneapolis. Or maybe it could offer some money to finance the proposed streetcar line. Or maybe it will spend the extra $150 million for deep tunnels in Kenilworth. All that assumes, of course, that the Met Council has and is willing to spend the money.

The task facing Judge Boylan looks like mediation impossible.