As one of the strongest supporters of the Southwest Corridor LRT line in the state, this is a day I have looked forward to for many years. It is especially significant to be here with some of my fellow mayors: we have worked hard to pass transportation amendments, elect people who will fight for transit and make the case to everyone that our region needs to invest more in alternatives to congested freeways.
In every way possible, I want to be able to join you today in a unanimous alignment vote, but, sadly, I cannot do that. I will be voting “no” today, but intend it to a constructive no from someone who will stay at the table and continue to do what we can to get this line built right.
I have said that I would be willing to take a tough vote for my city if the key questions we had were answered, and if all other options had been exhausted. I am voting no because questions do remain and I do not feel we have completely exhausted alternatives.
The concerns that remain have been outlined in depth by me and my representative at this committee. As mayor of the City of Lakes, one of my and my city’s most important concerns is that with this project, we are proposing to build tunnels in the middle of a sensitive wetland without proper assurances that it will not impact the water in the Chain of Lakes, which surrounds this piece of land in almost all directions.
A second, extremely important remaining concern is whether promises made on mitigation can be kept. If tunnels are proposed, we cannot see that promise value-engineered away at a later date. I do not feel we have that assurance yet.
I also cannot yet tell my constituents that this alignment is necessary because all other options have been exhausted. We were promised three weeks ago that there would be one more hard look at options for relocating freight, but when the selected firm withdrew, there was not an attempt to find another. Making a commitment one week, then withdrawing it one week later, is not going to help build the trust we will need in my community, or any community along this line.
I fully understand that the staff and many of you on the committee have already concluded that there is no other way to get the railroads to explore options. I understand, but I disagree.
While the railroads clearly have significant rights, it sounds a lot to me and to my constituents what we were often told about our challenges with the airport. If we had accepted what we had been told in that case — that airports and the FAA can make and break promises without any recourse — we would never have fought for and won airplane-noise protection for about 10,000 homes in Minneapolis. I cannot say confidently that in this case we will get the railroads to be more flexible, but I do feel we owe it to those we represent to fight hard.
This is important because I feel that Minneapolis and St. Louis Park are in untenable positions because the railroads have taken the untenable position that they would not negotiate. I know St. Louis Park well: my first job was as editor of the St. Louis Park Sun, and having spent a lot of time in the area that would be affected, I do not think it would be right to have an alignment with massive berms through the city. I do feel, however, that if the railroads were more flexible, we could have a better option on the table to put against Kenilworth.
I have spoken with many of you on this committee and I am very convinced that this is a group of individuals with good motives. We simply see this situation differently.
I also want to say how much I respect those who have raised concerns about this alignment. There are those who have made irrational statements, but the overwhelming majority of those who have questioned this alignment have been transit advocates who want their questions answered and other options exhausted. Their name says it: they just want LRT Done Right.
We will now enter the municipal-approval process. I cannot predict how this will fare at Minneapolis City Hall but I will stay at the table, try to get our concerns fully addressed and our questions answered, and try to assure my constituents that we have exhausted other options. If so, am prepared to vote yes and be a strong champion. I just want to see LRT done right.