Light Rail debate raging again at Capitol

The debate over the Southwest Light Rail Transit line is roaring again at the Capitol.

A pair of bills from Sen. David Osmek, R-Mound, debated Tuesday in separate committees, would restrict the use of public money for construction or operation of any new rail transit lines without explicit legislative approval.

“If we had had this law in place before we started all of the spending, we wouldn’t have problems today,” said Osmek.

One approved on a 6-4 vote by the Senate Local Government Committee would affect lines proposed for the Twin Cities area and around fast-growing Rochester.

Advocates for the nearly $1.9 billion Southwest line said the Minneapolis-to-Eden Prairie project would be in jeopardy if the Legislature passes the bills, which cover not only state dollars but also money put forward by cities, counties and special authorities such as the Metropolitan Council.

Met Council lobbyist Judd Schetnan said funding for the Southwest line is arranged and construction is set to begin soon.

“We’re at the point now where we’re hoping to be constructing the Southwest line late summer. And what this bill does is stop all of that. It stops the city work. It stops the municipal consent work,” Schetnan said. “We’ve had municipal consent again twice from all of the cities and counties along that line, and this stops it right in its tracks, to pardon the pun.”

The other bill would bar use of state dollars toward operation of a new line. After fares are factored in, the state now picks up half the operation costs for existing lines.

Osmek said the state share of operating costs makes it important that the Legislature have direct input.

“The fact of the matter is if we’re going to commit the state’s taxpayers to 20 or 30 million dollars on top of what we currently spend in operating costs for our current light rail structure, shouldn’t we have a say from a taxpayers point of view?” Osmek said in the local government committee. “That’s all I’m saying with this bill.”

The Southwest debate contributed to the breakdown of a transportation and general construction bill last year. Project supporters cobbled together other funds to keep the planned line moving forward.

  • Gary F

    How about freeze the Met Council’s funding so they will have to cut internally to pay for SWLT.

  • Fred

    It seems reasonable that since the Met Council went rogue to build SWLRT they should be responsible for operating cost subsidies as well. Do we really want to be ruled by a non-elected government?

    • Fred

      arrogantly superior and disdainful.
      “a look of haughty disdain”
      synonyms: proud, arrogant, vain, conceited, snobbish, superior, self-important, pompous, supercilious, condescending, patronizing;

      That about sums up the Met Council.

  • eric pone

    The Eastern side of the state needs a complete system from Duluth to Winona and east to Western Wisconsin(eventually Duluth and Twincities to Marshall and Moorhead?). It costs money to move people. I never hear these argument when it comes to roads and highways. Apparently these are social entitlements that must be protected. We need both a complete transit system and a complete road system. We can’t possibly get the economic development in rural Minnesota without it. We need to grow the cities to create demand for rural jobs and products. We have to grow to win. The GOP needs to deal with this. We can pay for both.

  • pcsrocky

    The cities who want the rail line pay for building, operating and maintaining it for the life of the line. What good does the Southwest line do for the rest of the State, actual demonstrable good? What good does the gold line provide for anyone besides those travelling from downtown Mnpls to downtown St. Paul? What amount of the daily operating costs are subsidized on the current lines? What amount of the bus system(s) are subsidized currently? If all of this is so good and necessary, why does the daily operating cost need to be subsidized?

  • Veteran Patriot

    We have the ONLY un-elected, unaccountable Met Council in the nation. State funding will be an un-ending annual process that comes from all taxpayers pockets…for maybe 6% who will ride the boondoggle express. Amazing! Kinda like…if you like your doctor, your can keep your doctor….

  • Nora Bryson Felton

    Hint to author—-the rail proposed to your “fast growing Rochester” (that’s actually LOST several large businesses in past 5 years) is NOT light rail…..please know and understand the differences in rail types as they serve vastly different populations and take up very different spaces