The Southwest Light Rail vote scheduled for Aug. 28 by the Metropolitan Council should be delayed to allow more time to study the options, says Minneapolis mayoral candidate Betsy Hodges.
“There are some significant questions with all the plans in play about what the impact would be on the city, on our infrastructure, on our waterways, on our trails and on our trees and these questions need to be answered,” Hodges said Tuesday at a City Hall news conference.
Some of the options dropped early in the process because of cost need to be re-examined, she said. Hodges, a City council member, cited as an example the option of moving the freight line farther west than the current option in St. Louis Park.
The current plan to move the freight line to St. Louis Park and run it on top of 20-foot-tall earthen berms could add significantly to the cost of the project. The estimated cost of the entire project was recently increased from $1.25 billion to $1.82 billion.
“There’s no federal law that says we cannot hold off on these votes for some time to ask and get answers to those questions, and I believe we should,” said Hodges. The federal government is expected to pay half the cost of the project.
The least expensive option is co-location – that is, keeping the freight trains where they currently run through the Kenilworth Corridor and adding light rail lines to the same route.
One such plan would bury the light rail line in a deep tunnel in the Kenilworth Corridor with the freight train running above the line at ground level.
“Co-location at grade [level] is not an option for me — it is not an option for the city,” said Hodges. If the choice comes down to co-location or no train, she said she would vote for no train. “If it comes to that, indeed.”
The Hodges campaign invited reporters to City Hall for a news conference about recent behavior by off-duty Minneapolis police officers.
“I have full trust in our Police Department and full trust in Chief Harteau,” said Hodges, “but we do know there are officers who can, and do, misbehave.”
Two incidents, one in Green Bay and another in Apple Valley, involved Minneapolis off-duty officers using racial slurs, fighting with black men and behaving badly to officers from other police departments. Both incidents are being investigated by the Internal Affairs Unit.
Hodges called the incidents “intolerable and appalling” and said the current system for spotting the potential for unacceptable behavior by police officers needs to be enhanced.
Hodges also said she would improve the ability of citizens and officers to file complaints about misconduct. As a council member, she voted against the plan that eliminated the Civilian Review Authority, which previously considered some complaints about police conduct.
“I didn’t support the new system,” said Hodges. The city was forced to eliminate the CRA following changes in state statute. “I wanted residents and civilians to have more say.”
She is undecided about how she will vote when it comes to putting a referendum on the November ballot that could open the door for the city to take over the gas and electrical utilities.
“I don’t know what I think about actually doing a public utility in the City of Minneapolis,” said Hodges, who, for now, is keeping that question open. “What is not open to me is how useful it is to ask the question and to have that tool on the table, have that option on the table.”
One of her opponents, Mark Andrew, has called the ballot option “reckless and irresponsible.”
“I don’t think it’s ever reckless or irresponsible to make sure we’re negotiating well on behalf of the residents of Minneapolis,” she said.
The ballot question comes before the City Council on Aug. 15.