Southwest metro residents debate SWLRT project

sw-light-rail.jpgA light rail train pulls into the Target Field station as a commuter walks by in February 2012. This station is planned to connect with the Southwest Corridor LRT, which will connect downtown Minneapolis to Eden Prairie. (Alex Kolyer for MPR)

As state lawmakers debate whether to fund the proposed Southwest light rail line in this year’s bonding bill, people who live near the line are doing some debating of their own.

The $1.25 billion LRT line, one of Gov. Mark Dayton’s top priorities, would run between Eden Prairie and downtown Minneapolis, where it would connect to other mass transit. For more on the politics of this LRT line, read my story that aired on Thursday’s Morning Edition.

42-year-old Hopkins resident Judie Schumacher is against the LRT. She lives near the proposed route but plans to continue taking her express bus to her job with Wells Fargo in downtown Minneapolis. Schumacher prefers the bus because it’s fast and convenient.

“I hop on an express bus and it’s instantly on the freeway. You get right downtown super fast and it drops me off a couple of blocks from my building, versus the light rail,” said Schumacher.

In contrast, the light rail line would make multiple stops between her Hopkins home and downtown Minneapolis.

Schumacher describes herself as a big proponent of public transportation. She grew up taking the bus and said she’d rather see the state invest in more flexible bus lines in the metro than light rail.

“I like the idea of choice but a billion and a half dollars to construct it, not even thinking about all of the money people are spending now analyzing it and researching it and doing the impact studies,” said Schumacher. “The plan is so expensive. I very much like public funding of mass transit but I just don’t think that this light rail going out to Eden Prairie makes a lot of sense.”

43-year-old Jeff Zammas supports the Southwest Corridor LRT. He lives with his wife and young son near where the line would run through St. Louis Park. His wife takes the bus to her job in downtown Minneapolis now, but he says they’d take light rail downtown as a family.

“I think just having another option is good. It’s just one less stress, you know, having to find a place to park, sitting in traffic,” said Zammas. “We’ve gone downtown before and it seems like you hit every light and then you’re trying to find parking or you can get into the parking lot, but then after the event you’re just sitting in the parking lot.”

Zammas said he supports building more mass transit, especially as gas prices rise.

“A few summers ago when it was four dollars a gallon a lot of people stopped driving their cars and traded in their big SUVs, so it’ll happen again where it’s going to go up – maybe not as drastically or as quickly, but I think the sooner you build stuff and have those options, the cheaper it’s going to be,” said Zammas. “If we wait until next year or the year after, it’ll be more expensive. So, if we are going to do it we should probably just start moving forward with it.”

Met Council officials say the Southwest Corridor LRT needs $25 million dollars in state bonding money to move forward. Besides the state’s total $125 million share, the rest of the line’s cost will come from these sources –

*Federal government (50 percent)

*Hennepin County (10 percent)

*Counties Transit Improvement Board’s five-county sales tax (30 percent).

House and Senate Republicans say they need more information before they’ll commit state funding to the project.