Southwest Light Rail Project Enters Crucial Week, Fate Remains Uncertain

Updated: 07/08/2014 10:34 AM By: Stephen Tellier

It's a crucial week for Minnesota's most expensive transit project, with its fate still very much up in the air.

The Southwest Light Rail project would cost $1.7 billion, and run about 16 miles from downtown Minneapolis to Eden Prairie.

All five cities through which the line will run, along with Hennepin County, have until July 14 to approve the project - that's why there's so much urgency surrounding the project right now.

The Met Council and the city of Minneapolis have been at an impasse for several months, and in closed-door mediation for weeks. The main point of contention is the Kenilworth corridor. Minneapolis officials, and many neighbors, object to light rail's proposed route there.

Right now, the plans call for two shallow tunnels separated by a bridge over a water channel. But 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS sources at city hall said a compromise is in the works which could include scrapping the northern tunnel and adding an extra light rail station near 21st Street.

The city of Minneapolis just scheduled a public hearing on the project for Tuesday at 7 p.m. at the Anwatin Middle School auditorium at 256 Upton Ave. South.

Meanwhile, several opponents we spoke with scoffed at the potential compromise. But one neighbor, and former neighborhood association board member, said it's time to move the project forward.

"I just think that we need, now that we have the green line and the blue line, that we need to have more connections or those are going to get underused. We need to go more places and get more people access to lines," Kathy Williams said.

Even a compromise, and a vote of approval from the Minneapolis City Council, does not mean smooth sailing from here on out. The threat of a lawsuit still hangs over the project, possibly coming from neighborhood groups or the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board, both of which still disapprove of the design through Kenilworth, known as a scenic recreational area.

Minnetonka and Hopkins have already given the project the green light. St. Louis Park had scheduled a vote for Monday, but opted to postpone it a week. Minneapolis leaders have yet to schedule a formal vote.