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Nine ways of looking at Southwest LRT

Metropolitan Council

Few who testified at the City of Minneapolis’ public comment session on the Southwest Light Rail Transit route last week believed the decision hadn’t already been made.

A deal between Minneapolis and the Metropolitan Council appears to have cleared the way for the city to give its consent to the 16-mile route between Minneapolis and Eden Prairie, and a special meeting of the City Council has been called by Mayor Betsy Hodges for Wednesday morning to approve some of the last parts of the deal. The council is then set to vote on municipal consent for the project on Friday.

Even as the city moves toward its expected approval of the project, both opponents and advocates used the hearing of the council’s Transportation and Public Works Committee to articulate various reasons why the elected officials should side with their point of view. For an hour and a half, in fact, more than three-dozen people took two minutes each to speak their minds. Here is some of what they said:  

Russell Palma, resident, Dean Court: The alignment makes no sense. In the Kenilworth Corridor ridership will be essentially zero whereas along the Midtown Greenway there are thousands of new apartments sprouting up filled with young professionals who would be eager to ride the light rail downtown. And to pretend the proposed alignment will create significant North Minneapolis ridership flies in the face of geography and logic. Of course there are a number of other legitimate questions about cost, safety, promotion of sprawl, broken promises about moving freight rail, etc. But to sum up, to me this project brings into question the very essence of Minneapolis as a green city that values its lakes and natural areas. These areas, once lost, are almost impossible to reclaim.

Bill McCarthy, president, Minneapolis Regional Labor Federation: At the Minneapolis Regional Labor Federation we believe that good jobs strengthen communities and that our communities have the opportunity to work together to build an economy that works for all. An economy that works for all means that every worker can access a good job no matter where workers live or where jobs are located. An economy that works for all means that everyone has an efficient way to get to work.

Mel Reeves, resident, North Minneapolis: The train’s gonna be built, and I’m not arguing with the people who oppose the train. But I know better than them that once the power structure decides they want something, it’s pretty much going to get done. So if the train is definitely coming, let’s make sure that everybody can get on board. What I mean by that is everybody should get their fair share. We want you all to take it seriously. We’ve been talking about equity. I think you can’t come to Minneapolis without hearing the word equity. So it’s time we actually make sure that it becomes real.

David Ruebeck, resident, Drew Avenue: This proposed train service is not good enough to justify the sacrifices and expense. A train that truly would serve Minneapolis would move through densely populated areas of the city that are filled with residents who depend on public transportation to take them to quality jobs. That alignment was not chosen. A train worthy of Minneapolis would intrinsically improve equity. North Minneapolis is poorly served by this train. The train barely touches the southern edge [of North Minneapolis]. People have to take buses to get to it. This process has been a snowballing mass of bad decisions, missed opportunities and wasted money. It has resulted in the wrong alignment for your city’s people.

Aasim Shabazz, resident, North Minneapolis: First, I want to express my support and our community’s support for the Southwest LRT. We also want to include though, and I want to state that, the Equity Commitments Coalition that we have put forward to you all, the Met Council and Hennepin County in writing for a response. We feel that that response will constitute accountability. ... Transit has also been a tool to segregate cities. It also has been a tool to divest in certain parts of the city. Southwest represents an opportunity to build a connection. No, it doesn’t touch certain points that we’d like for it to touch. But the BRT (bus rapid transit) represents an opportunity for a connection that can get people in my community to other opportunities in the southwest area.

Sara Brenner, resident, Kenwood: You stood with us, strongly supported no-colocation. Some of you were elected because of your strong stance on no-colocation. Now, at the 11th hour, you’ve abandoned that stance, abandoned us, and negotiated something with the Met Council that we are all trying to understand. In those negotiations, we’re trying to figure out what you got: paltry station improvements, ‘arty’ poles, adding the 21st Street Station in a neighborhood that has a hard time filling its buses. You abandoned the north tunnel for $30 million and got only hazy guarantees that the land will remain under public control in an area that can’t be developed anyway and with a freight company that through common carrier legislation must carry whatever — and however much — their customers demand them to.

Tynel Boxley, student, Summit Academy OIC vocational training program: I definitely support the Southwest Light Rail being built because it will benefit me and my family. I say that because I am tired of being limited to low-paying jobs or minimum-wage jobs or no jobs just because I can’t reach a job that I’m qualified for just because there’s no transportation.

Louise Erdrich, novelist, owner of Birchbark Books, Kenwood resident: When I’m in my bookstore and I’m talking to people who visit our city, the thing I hear over and over is, You people don’t know what you have. You just don’t know what you have. You have green, you have tranquility, you have an extraordinary place to live. And it astonishes people who come to visit us that we care so much about our city and we care so much about our green spaces. That’s why I don’t think we should move forward at all without an environmental impact statement.

Russ Adams, executive director, Alliance for Metropolitan Stability: We know that you had the weaker hand in the negotiations at the table. I don’t think you guys crumbled. I think you negotiated from as strong a position as you could. I think you got some good outcomes. There will be speakers later on who are going to thank you for making sure the 21st Street Station is going to be preserved and $30 million to create better bike and pedestrian connections. One other good outcome that’ll come out of this project is if we hit the 32 percent construction goal for workers of color, for folks like the woman from Summit Academy, $105 million will move into households of color at the end of the project.

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Comments (2)

I'm a great fan of light rail, but sometimes the routing here

doesn't make sense.

Something just recently occurred to me about the routing of the Southwest line. The extension to Eden Prairie has never made any sense to me, since that suburb has few town-like developments and is mostly houses and more houses. One of the talking points about the Eden Prairie route has been that it will take Northside residents to all the jobs in Eden Prairie.

Now that is an argument that makes me wonder. Could it be that the fast food and retail jobs in Eden Prairie are going begging because local residents don't want those jobs, especially not at typical fast food and retail wages? Could it be that the business community of Eden Prairie is hoping to bring in people who are desperate enough to work for next to nothing, so that they don't have to raise wages?

Incidentally, that is not the only routing that raises questions. Why doesn't the Green Line go to the Ordway and the Science Museum, two major destinations in downtown St. Paul, on its way to Union Station? You still have to transfer to a #21 bus at some point, and when I rode from Union Station to Uptown on the #21 bus, just to see what would happen, it took an hour and forty minutes. Transferring to the #21 at Union Station, you stand on a windy platform, which might not be very appealing in the winter at night. Because of this, Minneapolis residents will not be motivated to use the Green Line to visit the Ordway area but will feel that driving is their only reasonable option.

What are the safety risks of the co-located freight rail and LRT

Every day at least 5 million tons of ethanol are transported along the proposed LRT route. Every year a train accident in the US causes a disastrous ethanol explosion because the tank cars are not safe. Despite this Minnesota decided that it is too expensive to station the emergency equipment needed to fight such a fire.

So what would happen in Kenwood?

Miscommunication between the rail dispatchers causes a train crash, derailing 8 cars into the LRT tracks. A frightened resident places a 911 call. Upon arriving, the emergency responders stand back for fear of the likely Ethanol explosion. As one fire captain was quoted in a report, "I kept my people back, when those things blow, they fly a mile!" Instead they evacuate the half-mile radius LRT corridor. When the leaking fuel catches fire, the tank cars explode sending a mushroom cloud into the sky. The responders don't attempt to put the fire out, because they haven't the right equipment to control exploding Ethanol tank cars. They can't pump water from the lake, because it has Ethanol mixing into it, and is flammable. Not all the Ethanol burns, some vaporizes, making the air itself dangerous. Thousands of gallons leak into Cedar Lake and Lake of the Isles, and more leaks directly into the ground water. The fire burns for more than 24 hours. In the meantime the Ethanol continues draining into the lakes and ground water (unlike oil, Ethanol doesn't float - its alcohol - it mixes with the water.) The railroads send their disaster intervention team (based in Arkansas) by rail to come here and clean up after the risk of fire is over, three days later. Then they begin draining the lakes to remove the ethanol. They allow the evacuees back into their homes when the fire risk is over. They can't drain the ground water, so approximately a month later, they will have drilled wells to suck the ground water out. In the meantime, the residents are at risk of Ethanol fumes in their basements, so they are warned not to use their furnaces, water heaters, or electricity. The ground water wells don't do the trick for certain. For those who died or whose homes burned, the planned liability insurance covers up to half a million per home, which is less than the value of the homes and contents.

This scenario is taken from the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB)'s Accident Reports and the Department of Transportation's National Response Team Quick Reference Guide for railroad crashes involving Ethanol.