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.