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.