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

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

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.

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.

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.

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Comments (14)

  1. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 04/03/2014 - 11:13 am.


    I can’t take these comments seriously. This line has been in the planning stages for decades and MPLS has been part of that planning. We’re spending hundreds of millions of dollars to preserve the corridor more or less as it is, and we’re bringing billions of dollars worth or transit projects that make MPLS a regional transit hub. What exactly is it again they’re “losing?”. Oh, that’s right, a few affluent resident a “losing” the dream of a freight train free corridor… because THAT’s all MPLS cares about?

    • Submitted by Adam Miller on 04/03/2014 - 12:03 pm.

      They are losing

      Part of what they bargained for. How is that difficult to understand? The deal changed to Minneapolis’s detriment. Why should it be happy about that?

      The expectations was that Kenilworth would take on substantially increased train traffic (in the form of frequent light rail runs) in exchange for being relieved of two or three freight trains a day. Now the deal is that Kenilworth gets to keep both.

      Maybe that’s the best available outcome, but I don’t know why anyone would expect the city to not be at least a little bit displeased.

      • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 04/03/2014 - 08:37 pm.

        Let me explain

        We’re spending $300 million to put the light rail in tunnels so the residents won’t see them. The net effect is two or three freight trains a day in stead of 225 light rail trains a day.

  2. Submitted by Dan Hintz on 04/03/2014 - 12:29 pm.


    I have to say that I have been really, really, really unimpressed with Betsy Hodges since she became mayor.
    I can think of a lot of other things going on in Minneapolis that involve a much bigger “fundamental failure of fairness” than a train route. This is just embarrassing.

    • Submitted by Pat McGee on 04/03/2014 - 01:02 pm.

      Beyond emabarrassing, indeed

      Mayor Hodges comments are beyond embarrasing, for sure. If this is “absolutely everying we cared about” it will be a long four years with her at the helm. Because, what else is there left to do, now that everything she cared about is lost.

  3. Submitted by john schmoe on 04/03/2014 - 01:28 pm.


    We didn’t get everything we wanted, so we’re taking our ball and going home!


  4. Submitted by Andrew Smith on 04/03/2014 - 06:05 pm.

    I think people are forgetting that Minneapolis originally opposed the Kenilworth alignment, and preferred one that went through Uptown. Rerouting the freight was the price for buying the cities’ acquiesce to the current route. Without the freight reroute, Minneapolis has gotten nothing of what it originally wanted, and was basically lied to by the Metropolitan Council to get it to agree to the current line. I think that is the issue, more than Kenwood NIMBYs.

    • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 04/03/2014 - 08:48 pm.

      Not really…

      If we weren’t spending $300 million to put the Light Rail in the tunnel MPLS could claim that it wasn’t getting a deal. And since MPLS wasn’t offering to pay for a subway system for the Uptown “line” that preference was never a viable option in the first place. Nothing they originally wanted? They’re getting billions of dollars worth of transit system, they didn’t want that? All they ever wanted was train free Kenilworth? That’s all the whole city wanted? Please.

    • Submitted by David Greene on 04/03/2014 - 09:08 pm.

      Come On

      No one “lied.” Information changed.

      Let’s stop with the heated rhetoric, ok?

      Minneapolis *is* getting a new LRT line bringing thousands of people into it every day. Are you saying the city didn’t and doesn’t want that? I find the idea that the city didn’t get anything it wanted puzzling.

      I’ll not repeat the equity benefits this line brings but suffice to say, this line brings a LOT to the city. It could bring even more and I sincerely hope that is what Mayor Hodges fights for, rather than fighting the lost cause of freight relocation.

  5. Submitted by Paul Lambie on 04/04/2014 - 12:35 am.

    Makes sense to me

    I thought Mayor Hodges’s comments sounded fair. The City didn’t get the light rail alignment they wanted, but they agreed to this one because the freight rail was to be removed. Now that the freight rail isn’t being removed and the recreational corridor (yes, it’s now a recreational corridor) is being disturbed, why would Minneapolis support the project?

    Spending $1.5 billion so that suburban commuters can ride a train instead of a bus doesn’t really do a whole lot for Minneapolis when the alignment doesn’t serve existing Minneapolis transit users and there are very few opportunities for redevelopment near the only proposed stations in Minneapolis.

    I’d prefer they revisit the alignment and build a tunnel under Nicollet or Lyndale Avenue.

    • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 04/04/2014 - 09:05 am.

      We made up for it….

      By putting the light rail in tunnels. MPLS is getting tens of thousands of commuters a day for shopping, work, and sport events. Freight lines have been in that corridor for around 100 years. Let’s not pretend that making MPLS a regional transit hub with a multi-billion dollar light rail system is the equivalent of turning the city into some kind of sacrificial lamb.

      I use that “recreational corridor” all the time and I have no problem with the occasional train. Are telling me 225 light rail trains without the 2-3 freight trains a day would be better? Remember, that “deal” everyone is talking about didn’t include LR tunnels, the whole point of moving the freight line was to make room for an at grade LR line.

  6. Submitted by Jeb Myers on 04/04/2014 - 05:51 am.

    Historical Perspective

    I am a resident of St. Louis Park. Mayor Hodges is correct that promises were made by politicians that were unable to be realized.

    The freight train has always run through St. Louis Park.
    Commissioner McLaughlin and company moved the freight train from the South Minneapolis neighborhoods into the Kennilworth neighborhood to build the Hiawatha line (and they built the monstrosity at Lake & Hiawatha to ensure the end of freight rail).

    St. Louis Park was involved in negotiations to re-route the train through its city, but the documents were not signed because mitigation costs for the re-route was never agreed upon by the respective parties.

    If Mayor Hodges would like to assign blame, Commissioner McLaughlin and her constituents in the South Minneapolis neighborhoods would be a great place to start.

    If Mayor Hodges would like to find a solution, find an extra half billion dollars and build a flat, straight rail corridor with adjacent “recreational” trails through St. Louis Park. All of the current proposals for a reroute in SLP are akin to rerouting 35W down Clinton Ave S in South Minneapolis.

  7. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 04/04/2014 - 09:09 am.

    It just astounds me…

    People are looking at a multi-billion dollar LR line that will move tens of thousands of people a day in and out of MPLS for work, shopping, and sporting events… and they saying this does NOTHING for MPLS?

  8. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 04/04/2014 - 10:01 am.

    The “original” deal

    Sure, the original deal may have relocated a freight line that runs 2-3 trains a day. But THAT deal replaced the freight rail with an at-grade light rail running 225 LR trains a day. So your telling me that Hodges thinks it’s unfair to get “stuck” with 2-3 freight trains a day instead of 225 light rail trains? All n all MPLS is getting a better deal.

    Oh wait, that’s right, MPLS wants the LR in tunnels… but THAT wasn’t the original deal was it? So let’s stop whining about what happened to the original deal and pretending that there’s been no compromise or problem solving. Let’s stop trying to pretend that a multi billion transit line that will bring tens of thousands of people in and out of MPLS every day is turning MPLS into some kind of sacrificial lamb on behalf of the suburbs.

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