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Stop Clear-Cutting of Trees for SWLRT: Residents Petition Gov. Walz

Is the federal funding for SWLRT in doubt? Should the Kenilworth trees be saved until the federal grant is secured?

A coalition of Minneapolis neighborhood residents and groups made that very argument in a petition to the Governor’s staff on Tuesday. The petition asks Governor Walz to stop his Met Council (the unaccountable body only answers to the Governor) from clear cutting trees along in the Kenilworth corridor to prepare the path for Southwest Light Rail (SWLRT) until federal funding is secured. You can sign the petition here.

Sen. Scott Dibble and Rep. Frank Hornstein, supporters of SWLRT, have been working with the coalition to petition the Governor.

As I have written, the Federal Transit Administration issued what is called a “No Prejudice Letter” last fall, giving the Met Council and Hennepin County permission to prepare the right-of-way for SWRLT (spending up to another $435 million). That letter is a reliable signal that the FTA will fund the $928 million federal portion of the $2 billion project. But the Trump administration, prior to the 2018 mid-term GOP losses, made it crystal clear that SWLRT and other transit projects would NOT get federal dollars. The administration’s position was that local dollars should fund the project.

Confusing, I know, but this is the Swamp in action. You have a president that wants to shift transportation funding policy and priorities up against Congressional lobbying for local projects (there is ample funding for SWLRT) and a bureaucracy in the FTA that is used to funding projects—even bad ones like SWLRT.

But something is up. The Met Council and Hennepin County are spending $200,000 in taxpayer dollars on lobbyists to secure the federal funding. Why spend bucks on lobbyists if you are certain of funding? Maybe I was wrong to write that the federal funding train has left the station. I am happy to be wrong about that. (Note that if the FTA fails to fund the project that Hennepin County, which has already raised the transit tax, appears poised to do so but it is easier to engage a county board than the feds.)

One resident who lives near the trail is Karen Slater. She has been sending Tweets and letters to President Trump for weeks, trying to get the attention of Sec. Chao (who has the power to withhold the funding). Karen has joined forces with The Lakes & Parks Alliance of Minneapolis, Inc., 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)

While Slater and other residents rightly note that any LRT in the metro is boondoggling at its worst, other residents like “going green” with mass transit but not along the Kenilworth trail.

It is not just NIMBYism going on here, though that is going on here to be sure. The alliance argues that the co-location of the train is dangerous. And they are right. That is why BNSF is refusing to collocate unless they get a massive crash wall between their freight lines and SWLRT. (The reinforced concrete wall is going to be ten feet high, three feet thick and will run for 1.4 miles or so into Minneapolis. I have always said it will make a perfect wall for graffiti artists.)

The Center, which has been trying to stop this train for a decade, welcomes the energetic engagement of residents in Minneapolis, and the help of elected officials, whatever their political stripe or reason may be, to hit the pause button, if not stop or relocate SWLRT.

We wish them success in persuading the Governor that it would be tragic to destroy the Kenilworth trail, and foolish to build a train that will do nothing to relieve congestion and cost taxpayers about $30 million a year to operate.

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