Hennepin Co. takes action on Southwest Light Rail, public reaction mixed

- A day after the Federal Transit Administration cleared the path for the Southwest Light Rail Project to start construction, The Hennepin County Board and Rail Authority took key action Thursday to provide approvals and funding.

There are a variety of views on this project that is 20 years in the making and finally moving forward.

Between flipping burgers and serving his customers at Culvers, John Matthias describes the past several years as a roller coaster.

“Crazy,” he described. “It’s gonna happen. It’s not going to happen.”

After closings were canceled five times, Matthias sold the property his franchise sits on two years ago to make way for a parking lot next to the Southwest Light Rail's eventual southernmost station.

Other construction in the area is also underway in anticipation of the massive $2 billion rail project, which is expected to bring in an estimated 7,500 construction jobs. Also, the Met Council projected a 56 percent increase in population by 2035 along the line from downtown Minneapolis to Eden Prairie.

Today, there’s mixed feelings now that's ground breaking is within sight.

“I mean it’s a lot of money,” said Terrence Lee, an Eden Prairie resident. “It’s hard to say whether it would be worth it.”

“I think I might use it if it’s snowy,” resident Ron Milke said. “I sometimes commute to Minneapolis.”

“The cost is enormous both to build it and subsidize it going forward in the tens of millions of dollar,” said Commissioner Jeff Johnson. “And it will do nothing to relieve traffic congestion in any meaningful way. If it did I would have a very different opinion.”

Johnson is the only commissioner still opposed, as the Hennepin County Board and Rail Authority agree to enter into a grant agreement for $435 million, providing funding for early construction to start.

“This thing has been up and down at times,” said Commissioner Peter McLaughlin. “It’s going to advance our Metro Transit system within the Twin Cities and think it’s important to look at that system.”

Latest ridership numbers show record ridership for existing lines. The blue line is exceeding 2020 projections by 35 percent. Green line is exceeding 2030 ridership projections after just four years of operation.

With the Culvers moving just a half mile away across Hwy. 212, Jon is curious to see what sort of future Southwest Light Rail will bring.

“I’m glad for the state of Minnesota,” Matthias said. “The light rail has been very good to me and it’s what the state needs right now.”

Also, late this afternoon, the Met Council awarded the construction bid just a day before it was to expire. Lunda Construction Company based in Black River Falls, Wisconsin and McCrossan, based in Maple Grove will be teaming up for the project.

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