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Southwest Light Rail is an investment in equity

The Southwest Light Rail has three stops that will serve the Northside: the Royalston, Van White and Penn Avenue stations.

The Southwest Light Rail has three stops that will serve the Northside: the Royalston, Van White and Penn Avenue stations.
Courtesy of the Metropolitan Council

We are glad that Julie Sabo is raising important questions about transit equity for underserved communities. But she is mistaken in arguing that Southwest Light Rail is not an equity line.

The Southwest Light Rail line is an investment in equity, even if it does not address all of the disparities that our disadvantaged communities have faced. There is no magic train or perfect alignment that can fix the decades of disinvestment experienced by communities of color in the region. But if we let perfection be the enemy of the good, how much longer would our communities wait for investment?

The Southwest Light Rail has three stops that will serve the Northside: the Royalston, Van White and Penn Avenue stations. The Royalston station is within walking distance of the Heritage Park community. The Van White station provides easy access to the Harrison neighborhood. And the Penn Avenue station will connect with one bus transfer to the Penn Avenue corridor – the backbone of the Northside.

It’s no secret that the Twin Cities have some of the largest employment gaps in the country. African-American residents have suffered unemployment at nearly three times the rate of white residents. These stops will provide critical access to jobs for northsiders; additionally, the line will provide opportunities to underserved communities in cities like Hopkins and Eden Prairie.

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Sabo dismisses the equity impact of the Van White station, even while acknowledging that the Harrison neighborhood, where she says income “hovers around the poverty line,” is close by (a five-minute walk, in fact). It might be useful for Sabo to join Harrison residents in a walk-through of the area, and then she’d realize that Lowry Hill residents are not closest to that station, even if they were provided with the rapelling gear necessary to navigate the terrain.  

The long-ignored Harrison neighborhood has spent the last decade working to make sure that the area around the Van White station has the opportunity to grow and become a centerpiece of redevelopment and new housing construction. The Harrison neighborhood successfully opposed an attempt by county and city officials to place extensive train storage on the site because they did not want it to trim back the 3,000 housing units or the 5,000- 6,000 jobs proposed in the neighborhood-endorsed Bassett Creek Valley (BCV) master plan. Those new households and jobs figures are not included in current ridership projections for the station – once Ryan Companies starts to develop this site, it will become a thriving, catalytic addition to the city of Minneapolis.

A vision of revitalization

The Harrison redevelopment plan includes the vision of revitalization through transit-oriented development, envisioning acres of housing, retail/office and public green space. For a neighborhood that felt the full blow of the housing crash and has been a historic dumping ground (including polluted superfund sites and the city’s impound lot), Southwest Light Rail will provide investment, access to jobs, and a meaningful step toward economic growth. It deserves a chance to succeed.

Harrison residents and local elected leaders understand the “multiplier effect” of transit-oriented development. Dozens of owners of light-industrial properties near the Van White and Royalston stations are ready to reinvest in new commercial and retail properties. That wave of economic activity will sweep in to revitalize portions of Glenwood Ave. N., a forgotten commercial corridor. Add in the other planned transit enhancements envisioned for north Minneapolis, and you have the infrastructure pieces in place for access to a regional system of social benefits and economic connectivity.

Thanks to state and regional commitment to equitable hiring goals, the Central Corridor LRT project exceeded its 18 percent hiring goals for construction workers of color (filling an estimated 150 jobs that produced $5 million in wages). Southwest LRT’s equitable hiring goal is much larger, at 32 percent, and will create even greater construction career opportunities for people of color. This will provide a huge benefit.

The real decision

Finally, Sabo wonders if there would be a “smarter, equity based use of 1.5 billion transit dollars.” The decision is not between building the rail and building something else. It is between investing $1.5 billion dollars in economic development, including a substantial amount in underserved communities, or investing zero. Half of the project is paid for by the federal government, but we are competing with other cities for this money, and it can be taken away.

We call for the Northside and all stakeholders who care about equity to demand progress on a line that begins to address the issues we face. We have to start the hard work of growing our communities and our region by investing in a modern transportation network. With all due respect to Sabo, our communities are not “the same team that always wins.” We fail to see any upside to losing out on investments that connect our communities to jobs and economic opportunity. It is time to build Southwest.

Vicki Moore is a Harrison resident and Fifth Ward representative to the Bassett Creek Valley Redevelopment Oversight Committee. Ishmael Israel is the executive director of the Northside Residents Redevelopment Council. Louis King is the president of Summit Academy OIC.

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