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Betsy Hodges’ LRT remarks: ‘This is about a fundamental failure of fairness’

Mayor Hodges: “What the Met Council is offering is not shared burdens or shared benefits. And our constituents – my constituents – they know it.”

Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges shown during Wednesday's proceedings at Beth El Synagogue in St. Louis Park.
MinnPost photo by Bill Kelley

The following are Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges’ remarks before the Southwest LRT Corridor Management Committee, which met on Wednesday and approved, 11-2, an endorsement of a shallow-tunnel and bridge plan for Southwest LRT in the Kenilworth Corridor.

Thank you Madame Chair, thank you fellow committee members. I also want to echo, thank you to everybody who came out and spoke today. The public process here today I think has been valuable for everybody to hear what was said, and I do appreciate that.

I do need to note that what the Met Council is proposing today in 2014 is very different than the reasons and what was being proposed by the Met Council even in 2013. What you asked in 2013 is very different than what was asked in 2014.

In 2013 we were told, you can’t reroute the freight. There’s no way to do it safely, the physics have changed. Then a report came back, and then we were told, well, we didn’t plan for the railroads to say no, and we don’ t have time to go to the Surface Transportation Board, the body that can actually make a judgment about whether or not the physics worked, because we have an actual alternative in front of us.

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And there’s been a lot of hue and cry, and I’ve heard you all today say, well, you can’t go back in the past, it is what it is. But I just want to note that this problem that we’re facing is not one that the Met Council is observing, it’s a problem that the Met Council created. By not hiring a company like Trans Systems many years ago, by not building the time to go to the Surface Transportation Board into the project schedule and by giving the railroads veto power over the project, even though we have a place to sort these disputes out: the Surface Transportation Board.

It’s a policy decision to give the railroads the veto power over whether or not we go forward.  It’s a policy decision that I have not seen any body vote on. Not this body, not the Met Council, no body involved in this process has affirmatively said, well, if the railroads don’t like it, then we shouldn’t do it. Today will be the first vote on that score.

And we shouldn’t give them that power. We should not give them that power.

If you had told Minneapolis in 2009 that the reroute – what was going to happen, as they already been talking about for years and years, and the promises that had already been made – and you had told Minneapolis, well, we’ll do reroute but only if the railroads don’t object. If you had said, Minneapolis, we’re going to give the railroads veto power over whether or not we do the reroute, then Minneapolis would not have voted for that locally preferred alternative. This would not be the route that Minneapolis would have supported for light rail.  We would’ve had a clarion call, perhaps not for Nicollet, Commissioner McLaughlin made very good points about that, but perhaps there would have been a clarion call to say, what would it look like on Hennepin, what would it look like on Lyndale, we need to find another alternative here because our support is predicated on the reroute of freight. And so that’s an important bit of context here.

That’s a point that needs to be raised – that this reroute was never taken seriously. This reroute has not been taken seriously. It’s safe, it meets the AREMA standards. Then we were told there were other standards that exceeded the AREMA standards even though those were the ones we agreed to. If it is inconvenient that a plan came forward that met the standard that we had set, just say so. Don’t retroactively apply a different safety standard, just say it’s inconvenient that we actually have a reroute here on the table that meets the standards that we set, but we didn’t anticipate. If it’s inconvenient, just say so.

It’s also a cost-versus-value question. There are costs associated here. But the tunnels add no value to this LRT project. They are intended – and that can be disputed – they’re intended to protect an asset that already exists. But it doesn’t create more ridership, it doesn’t create more development, they don’t do anything.

Moving, rerouting the freight, would actually add value. Three of the biggest stations along the line, two of the stations are in St. Louis Park, the return on investment for our $1.6 Billion would be in that economic development. And St. Louis Park noted that, in their 2012 comments on the DEIS. They said, freight trains will interfere with the operations of the LRT stations and be a detriment to development in the area as a reason to move those tracks around those stations. Because they wanted that development. St. Louis Park said that in 2012.

So it’s a cost-versus-value issue here. What value is being brought, it’s not just a question of how much is it going to cost.

So when we get down to it, there are two promises being broken here. There are two broken promises. First, the project is breaking a promise to the residents of Minneapolis that when we chose this alternative route, we would move the freight. That’s a promise that’s being broken. It facilitates St. Louis Park breaking a promise as well. The promise they made to the region that they also would accept that freight reroute. Part of that promise was codified in accepting the money for the Golden Auto Site from the state. Because it was money given to St. Louis Park – who took it and used it – by the state, Minneapolis doesn’t have standing. But just because we can’t sue St. Louis Park, doesn’t mean St. Louis Park didn’t make a promise, it doesn’t mean St. Louis Park isn’t breaking a promise, all it means is that they’re getting away with it. And that has to be clear here, too.

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So the question today isn’t about support for light rail. It isn’t even a question about support for the Southwest light rail line. I know how valuable light rail is. I’ve been arguing the virtues of transit for years, and I have been arguing it all across the city. I’ve been willing to say tough things to my constituents about supporting light rail and supporting light rail through this corridor. I understand the value, I understand what it can do for a community.

But today, this is about a fundamental failure of fairness. That’s what today is about. What the Met Council is offering is not shared burdens or shared benefits. And our constituents – my constituents – they know it. Because in this instance, St. Louis Park is going to get everything they want. Everything. Their alignment of LRT which they got in 2009. Their alignment of freight. $55 million of optional rail improvements. And they get to keep the Golden Auto money that was supposed to be used to reroute the freight.

Minneapolis, on the other hand, and what you are asking me to do right now on behalf of Minneapolis, is to lose on absolutely everything we cared about and put forward. We’re going to be getting our third choice for freight and our fourth choice for LRT, which are shallow tunnels that we don’t want and did not ask for.  Asking Minneapolis to lose everything is something I will not say yes to. I will not, on behalf of my constituents, vote yes to lose on everything when there are other, better alternatives that we could and should pursue. I will be voting no.