Light rail debate continues as council touts development

- The Metropolitan Council said almost $7 billion has been spent in development along current and proposed light rail lines. However, opponents say the numbers don’t add up.

It's already a polarizing issue, and with the southwest light rail expansion set to begin this year, its economic impact is again up for debate.

"I think the numbers are a measure of success, and I think we are continuing to succeed here," said Adam Duinick, chair of the metropolitan council.

On Tuesday, the council touted $6.8 billion in new development along both future and current light rail lines.

"By seeing the development dollars that flow, the jobs that grow, the housing numbers that increase, those are important selling points for us as a region," Duinick said.

The council collected the data from news reports on various developments, with critics arguing that many of the developments have no direct connection with light rail.

“Is that all predicated on having light rail run through your neighborhood?” State Representative Tony Albright asks.

Albright, a critic of the light rail, argues that state money would be better spent improving existing bridges and roads and believes the $6.8 billion in new development is a bit of a stretch.

"Sure, some of that economic development [would] happen, but in totality I think that's a far stretch,” he said.

Light rail supporters admit that some development numbers included in the $6.8 billion would occur without the light rail, but also stand behind the need for one and its positive impact in the Twin Cities metro.

"I don't think that changes the LRT access,” Duinick said. “An increased and improved transit system is vitally important for the future of our growth here."

Both the SWLRT and the blue line are expected to be completed by 2021.

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