Updated: 07/08/2014 10:56 PM
Created: 07/08/2014 10:50 AM KSTP.com
By: Megan Stewart
The city of Minneapolis and the Metropolitan Council have reached an agreement that may remove a major obstacle to the third leg of the metro area's light rail system.
The two sides have 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.
Minneapolis leaders had been slow to embrace plans to route the leg through its borders due to objections from some residents.
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.
If approved, the new plan would reduce the cost by $30 million from $1.683 billion. The new price tag for the project is estimated at $1.65 billion.
Discussions between the city and the Met Council were mediated by retired federal judge The Honorable Arthur J. Boylan.
On Tuesday afternoon, Hennepin County voted to approve the portions of SWLRT that go through St. Louis Park, Hopkins and Eden Prairie. They will vote on the new Minneapolis section sometime in August.
On Tuesday night, Minneapolis held a public meeting on the project. Dozens of residents spoke at the meeting, and they were roughly split between supporters and opponents. Supporters called the project an opportunity to increase jobs, improve transit and increase racial equity, while opponents criticized the process, asked for more environmental review, and denounced the total cost of the project.
Mayor Betsy Hodges said she has long supported light rail, but admitted the costs for the city are high.
"I understand why people are disappointed, and I understand why people object. They have been raising the same questions and objections that we have been raising for some time. But we were called upon to move forward. This is the most responsible way to move forward for the city and for the project," Hodges said.
The Met Council's Southwest Corridor Management Committee will meet to discuss the newly revised plans at a meeting on Wednesday morning.
Minneapolis residents will have another opportunity to comment on the proposed project at a hearing on Aug. 19. The city council is expected to vote on the project on Aug. 29. However, Minneapolis and Hennepin County now have until the end of the September to vote as part of the municipal consent process.