Hennepin Co. Board Approves SWLRT Project

Updated: 08/19/2014 6:41 PM
Created: 08/19/2014 11:27 AM
By: Megan Stewart

Major decisions for the Southwest Light Rail Transit Project are expected to be made in the coming weeks.

The Hennepin County Board of Commissioners voted to approve the project Tuesday afternoon. Now, the controversial project is just one vote away from becoming reality.

"It does have a shallow tunnel, and that's an important part of this project, and it also has a lot of safeguards and upgrades and connections, certainly improvements to the corridor in terms of safety," points out Commissioner Jan Callison.

The board approved the Southwest Light Rail plans six to one.  Jeff Johnson was the one "no" vote.

"It's not going to relieve congestion in any meaningful way, and I can think of many ways that I'd rather spend $38 million of my constituents' money than on this particular line. I just don't think it's going to benefit them, so I'm a no vote," declares Commissioner Jeff Johnson.

The project was held up after Minneapolis leaders had been slow to embrace plans of the route through the city due to objections from some residents.

In July, Hennepin County approved the portions of SWLRT that go through St. Louis Park, Hopkins and Eden Prairie. Tuesday's vote in Hennepin County approved the revised Minneapolis plan.

Recent changes to the plans seem to have greased the wheels a bit. After mediated discussions, Minneapolis and the Metropolitan Council agreed to drop one of two planned tunnels for the Southwest leg that would someday carry commuters to the western suburbs. The tunnel would have been north of the water channel connecting Cedar Lake and Lake of the Isles.

The new agreement would also add back the 21st Street Station and add pedestrian-access, noise mitigation, landscape restoration and other improvements along the corridor in Minneapolis.

The City of Minneapolis has yet to give its approval and will be the final vote, which is expected in the coming weeks. A public hearing will take place at 6 p.m. Tuesday night at the Minneapolis City Hall.

If approved, the new plan would reduce the cost by $30 million from $1.68 billion. The new price tag for the project is estimated at $1.65 billion.

The Hennepin County Regional Railroad Authority agreed Tuesday to fund 10 percent of the capitol costs. They also voted to limit freight traffic as much as lawfully possible, preserve bicycle and pedestrian trails and work with the city to ensure continued use.

On Wednesday, the Counties Transit Improvement Board, a collaboration of the five largest metro counties and the Met Council, is expected to approve a large portion of funds for the SWLRT.

The board will vote to decide if it will provide 30 percent, or $496 million, of the total SWLRT costs. CTIB is funded by a quarter-cent sales tax and typically generates around $110 million per year.

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