Time running out to save Southwest Light Rail project

Governor Mark Dayton hosted a discussion on saving the Southwest Light Rail project. The project has hit a road block after lawmakers failed to reach a deal on funding in the last legislative session. Those in favor of the project say there’s only six days to figure this out or risk losing federal funding.

Since the state legislature failed to approve a transit bill, there is now a $144.5 million funding gap for the project.  Met council is looking at issuing certificates of participation similar to bonds for $103 million, with the rest coming from the counties transit improvement board and the Hennepin County Regional Railroad. 

The other option laid out is to shut it down. 

Congressman Keith Ellison is in favor of the project as is DFL State Senator Ron Latz who says we can't build enough roads to keep up with the population.

“Jobs are increasingly moving to the suburban areas and exit urban areas, but transit options for these areas have not increased. If you want to get people in the neighborhood I live in, which is north Minneapolis, out to the places where there's real opportunity we have to build this line,” said Ellison.

“If you want to have any hope of getting from Minneapolis to St Paul in under a half hour or under 45 minutes in the near future we got to find a way to get workers and people around this region, not on the highways,” said Latz.

But Republicans don't understand the urgency and believe it will hit the taxpayer pretty hard.

“Where the house Republicans sit is that we have deep concerns, we feel the process has been flawed, cost merits a lot of questions,” said Rep. Linda Runbeck (R) of District 38A.

But it wasn't just politicians, representatives from the business district in favor of saving the project packed the house as did city leaders along the proposed line, like Minnetonka and Eden Prairie.  Plenty of residents spoke out in support, but at least one resident says light rail isn't where the time, effort and money should be going, but rather a better bus system.

No decision was made on this new proposal. The governor says if the project is to be saved, it has to be done by Aug. 31.