Second Ward, Minneapolis

This is the public policy forum of Minneapolis Second Ward (Green) City Council Member Cam Gordon and his staff. We use this space to talk about some of what Cam’s working on, explain his positions, and share a little of what life in City Hall is like. Please feel free to comment on posts, within certain ground rules. See our disclaimer, including ground rules, here:

Friday, August 29, 2014

On My Decision to Vote Against Granting Municipal Consent to Southwest LRT

I voted against granting municipal consent to the Southwest LRT project when it came before committee, and I plan to vote against it again at the full Council this Friday.

This was a tough decision to come to, because I strongly support transit.  I strongly support light rail.  In fact, I strongly support the Southwest LRT project in concept, and many of the details of the project as proposed.  Our region needs to build out a network of high-quality transit options that will help us address climate change, increase commuter choice, fuel economic development, and more.  This line will benefit my constituents, Minneapolis and the region. We are decades behind our peer cities in this work.

But there are three problems with the project that have led me to withhold my support: the process, the lack of commitment to equity, and the lack of commitment to making real connections to the dense urban neighborhoods that this line can and should serve.

On the process: I think it’s clear by now that the process that the Met Council has followed on this project has been abysmal.  Promise after promise was made to Minneapolis, and broken.  Our consent to this alignment was explicitly contingent on the freight rail being relocated.  Time after time, Minneapolis has been forced to compromise on a firmly held principle in order to prevent the project from failing completely.  And this process has been bad to the end: the Council is being asked to give municipal consent before the final Environmental Impact Statement has been released.  This is why it was so important that the Council adopted the staff direction Council Members Bender, Palmisano, Yang and myself worked on, authorizing the City Attorney’s office to begin litigation if the as-yet-unreleased SDEIS reveal unforeseen impacts to the water quality in the lakes, even if that means halting the LRT project.


On equity: Mayor Hodges is correct that the existing agreements with the Met Council do not achieve an outcome on equity that is any different than the Met Council’s standard operating procedure.  The response to concerns about resolving Met Transit connection and service problems to North Minneapolis have not been fully addressed.  Advocates for more community benefits related to equity have been less than satisfied with the Met council response so far.  We are being asked to trust that this outcome will be developed, but the process on this project thus far has not inspired much faith.  This is why it was so important that the Council (led by CMs Reich and Glidden) directed our staff to work with community leaders on these equity concerns and report back to the Council in September.


On transit access: the Met Council has not formally committed to taking the actions that will ensure that this new transit investment serves the real population density of south and southwest Minneapolis.  There are good things about the Kenilworth alignment: it will be fast, not require expensive tunnels, and interline well with the Green Line.  But the one major problem with this alignment is that it does not go where most of the people who could be served by it live.  This is not a self-correcting problem.  It will require the Met Council to take concrete actions, make additional transit investments, and support transit investments by others, like streetcars along the Midtown Greenway.  The Met Council has not committed to these improvements, and they should.


I will note that I supported several of the other actions taken by the Council, not only on the two above staff directions, but to preserve the public ownership of the freight rail corridor, and on the Memorandum of Understanding that has improved this project greatly from the version that was presented to the Council in July.


By joining a few of my colleagues in voting no, rather than having a unanimous vote of support from the Council, I hope that I am helping to send a signal to the Met Council.  I know that my concerns are shared by many of my colleagues, many of whom will be voting yes.  This process was deeply flawed.  The SDEIS should be finished.  The equity and transit access questions should be answered.  These things should be completed before municipal consent is asked for or granted.


In conclusion, I think it is important that we as a community learn from these experiences.  I hope that the lessons from this will help as we grapple with the Bottineau LRT line and more rail transit projects in the future.  My hope is that by expressing these valid, broadly-shared concerns about this project’s process and outcomes and voting no, I will help ensure that these sorts of concerns are taken more seriously in future projects.  There is more work to do and I intend to use my position to continue to address concerns, push for equity and better transit access, and work to preserve and even improve our parks, lakes, and trails.