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Kenwood Resident Makes Impassioned Plea to Reroute Unsafe SWLRT and Save Urban Oasis

Hennepin County and the Met Council are poised to cut trees and other flora and fauna from Eden Prairie to Minneapolis to make way for Southwest Light Rail this summer. Before we get to the plea printed below, here is a little background.

The $2 billion project, which will co-locate with freight over much of the route, is awaiting about $928 million in “New Starts” federal funding from the Trump administration; the state legislature has declined to support the project but gave Hennepin County the authority to raise funds with a new transit tax. (The Met Council, by the way, assumes in its project budget that the state will resume funding SWLRT operations in the future. Pretty cheeky, I’d say.)

And while the Trump administration has said for years that this and other LRT would not get federal funds, it nonetheless gave the project the green light following the mid-term last fall to prepare the right of way. (You can read my short analysis here.) You may recall that the mid-term was a wipe out for GOP congressman from the metro area who did not support SWLRT; elections do have consequences. Whether Trump will decline to fund the project remains to be seen.

I am told that Hennepin County is driving the train here, so to speak, and that the county will do whatever it takes (debt, diverting transit taxes to trains instead of buses) to build SWLRT (and it hopes Bottineau LRT) even if the federal funds are not granted. This in a seven-county metro that has only about 3.4 million people spread out over a huge area (we do not have the density, nor are we projected to have the density, to support mass transit). If you want to contact the county, the chair of the railroad authority is Commissioner Jan Callison (here is her “feedback form” and contact info: jan.callison@hennepin.us ; Phone: 612-348-7886).

 

The Lakes & Parks Alliance of Minneapolis, Inc. is the umbrella group coordinating the effort to stop the destruction of the trail and re-locate the train’s path. (You can reach them here at the website: www.lakesandparks.com).

What follows is a well-reasoned plea from a Kenwood resident named Marion Collins (she posted this on a neighborhood “Nextdoor” site and gave us permission to reprint it here).

I have been reading and writing about the SWLRT and thought I’d take a step back to digest many comments, some less than flattering. I am NOT in any way against mass transit that is economically built with smart environmental and safety considerations. As many people have pointed out, the idea behind MASS transit is to move MASSES of people from point A to point B.

And why do many, like myself, support mass transit done intelligently? Because the idea of mass transit is to reduce our carbon footprint – to reduce greenhouse gases, air pollution, use of gasoline – essentially, to reduce human impact on our environment. I wholeheartedly support that. Which is why I have, from day 1, questioned the current alignment of SWLRT. If we want to minimize our environmental impact, why are we building a light rail through sparsely populated parkland and preciously limited urban greenspace? Why are we cutting down thousands of trees, some hundreds of years old?

Why are we destroying (or, if you insist on being politically correct, discouraging) habitat of another species of endangered animal that we consider less important than our own desire for convenience? Why are we building a line that does not connect population-dense North Minneapolis neighborhoods in desperate need of better mass transit (I work in an underserved area of North Minneapolis, so I see this desperate need for better mass transit on a regular basis)?

If we want to build for the masses and reduce human impact, why are we destroying environment and sticking mass transit where there aren’t many masses? Why are we encouraging suburban sprawl? One commented on how the line will encourage population density along the route. Where? Do we plan to tear down single-family homes erect apartment buildings in all single-family neighborhoods? Place a Starbucks or Wal-Mart along the lakes? Where do we draw the line? Is this line supposed to serve the interest of builders who look at greenspace and see cash? Must we pave over whatever we can find?

So let’s back up and re-visit why this alignment was chosen in the first place. It was chosen NOT because it was the most sensible, safest, or most environmentally responsible route – it was, at the time, simply the cheapest route due to the way the federal government was funding transit projects and the lack of consideration for what was going to happen with freight rail.

There was a second route, that only increased suburban commute by a mere 10 minutes, that went through Uptown, that was preferred by many – the population-dense urban areas of Uptown, Downtown, and businesses that would see an increase in the ability of people coming to shop and spend (have you ever tried parking in Uptown? A bit of a nightmare.) However, this current alignment, once co-location of freight and light rail was going to happen, rapidly turned into one of the most expensive transit projects EVER.

And it no longer connects, and hasn’t for quite some time, to the needy neighborhoods in North Minneapolis. So why are we still throwing money at this line? I shake my head at the billions of dollars when our public schools don’t even have enough teachers and my kids have to go door-to-door to fundraise for basic programs like art and music.

Where are our priorities? Then I read through a few other comments and discovered the priorities in one word repeated several times – CONVENIENCE. I saw comments like “right now I have to do this and this to get to downtown, but if we run a train through parkland it’s a direct shot for me!”

We humans crave convenience for ourselves – whatever makes our lives easier, regardless of the price others may have to pay. I will be living right by a station, so talk about convenience! But the price I must pay for that is too high. What price, you wonder?

Electric light rail will be running feet from fuel-carrying freight trains. I asked the Met Council and David Davies what they were doing to guarantee our safety. What safety issues you ask? You see, perhaps this is a minor point for many of you, but several neighborhoods are in what is called a designated blast zone.

What does that mean? It means when there is interference or an accident between freight and electric trains, there will be a massive explosion. Such an explosion will level neighborhoods, such as mine, full of families, and also in my particular neighborhood an elementary school with some 450 children.

The response I received was that they are doing everything possible to minimize this possibility and that it “probably won’t happen.” How reassuring. So for the convenience of some, I get to wonder when my neighborhood will be leveled. I get to watch trees hundreds of years old get cut down, bike paths that over 600,000 people use each year (Met Council figures, by the way, not mine) destroyed for years, and money thrown at convenience instead of education.

Not the legacy I hope to leave my children (I am hoping to teach them respect for more than just their own convenience). I have been labeled simply a NIMBY – interesting, if it means I care about entire neighborhoods, hope for better transit for those who need it (again, I work in North Minneapolis in an underserved area, so yes, I have a pretty good idea of who is in desperate need), care about our greenspaces and the non-human inhabitants who live there more than my own convenience….I don’t think that is quite the right definition.

What is a person called who cares more for their own convenience than the world around them? I’ll leave you to ponder that question.

Thank you, Marion Collins!

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