Reporting Pat Kessler
ST. PAUL (WCCO) — There was a setback at Minnesota’s capitol Friday for a billion dollar light rail transit project in the western Twin Cities suburbs. It’s getting a thumb down from Republican leaders.
The Southwest Light Rail line would run from downtown Minneapolis to St Louis Park, Edina, Hopkins, Minnetonka and Eden Prairie.
It is the largest light rail project in the Twin Cities, bigger than Hiawatha Line and Central Corridor, which is under construction. All would be connected to the airport and the Mall of America.
Now, however, Republican leaders aren’t only questioning the planning money for the project, they are questioning the project itself.
MN House Speaker Kurt Zellers says the state should concentrate on maintaining state assets, like suburban bus lines and more highways — not building new projects.
“You know, fix the roof and make sure the siding is in good shape,” said Zellers, a Republican from Maple Grove, “Before you add on a new addition or before you add on a new garage.”
The line is among a handful of transit projects around the country to win matching grants from the federal government. Businesses and many politicians along the corridor say it’s urgent to get the project started.
“This is not a Democratic project. This is not a Republican project,” said Rep. Steve Simon, (DFL-St. Louis Park), a city on the proposed line. “This is an everybody project, that benefits everybody.”
Businesses say it means more expansion, and a union member on the Metropolitan Council says it means 3500 construction jobs.
“The payroll would be $352 million,” said Jennifer Munt, an member of AFSCME and a Met Council appointee representing the area. “Those paychecks would go home to counties around the state.”
Minnesota’s total share of the $1.2 billion project is $125 million dollars. The federal government would pay half and counties and cities would share the remaining cost. However, $25 million of planning money is needed this year to keep it on track.
It may not happen.
“I don’t think we’re ready for it,” said Sen. David Senjem, the GOP Senate Majority Leader.
That’s why Senejm and other Republican leaders are putting on the brakes.
“We’ve got something that is working really well,” said Zellers. “I think a better use of those dollars would be to expand (Interstate) 494 to three lanes, and finish Highway 169.”