Golden Valley wrestles with opposition to Bottineau light railby Laura Yuen, Minnesota Public Radio
GOLDEN VALLEY, Minn. — A Twin Cities suburb is resisting a plan to connect downtown Minneapolis to its northwest suburbs with light rail.
As Hennepin County pushes forward with what could be the fourth light rail spoke in the Twin Cities, Golden Valley is the only one of five cities touching the so-called Bottineau route preferred by planners to take an official stance against it.
Regional officials fear the opposition could delay or jeopardize the $1 billion project. But now the Golden Valley city council is reconsidering its "no" vote, and angering many residents in the process.
More than 150 people poured into Golden Valley City Hall Wednesday night for a special public hearing on the matter, including resident Elaine Wynne. She said she loves light rail. But Wynne can't understand how planners picked a route that doesn't serve her city's denser areas. The preferred alignment skirts around what she considers sacred green space, including the woodsy Theodore Wirth Park.
"My children had chances to be on the hills for birthday parties. They learned to ski there. On the other side of the chalet is a beautiful, beautiful meadow. So I have memories of that," she said. "It's really about children continuing to have spaces like that. We're taking more and more of those spaces away."
Map shows the proposed Bottineau Line. Story continues below the map.
The proposed route would run along an existing freight rail line that borders a chain of park land. Freight trains still rumble by, but not nearly as frequently as the proposed light rail trains, every seven and a half minutes during rush hour. The Bottineau line would then continue northwest through Robbinsdale, Crystal, and Brooklyn Park.
At the hearing, all but a handful of speakers urged their council members to stick to their original position opposing the plan. Several residents who testified own homes near the proposed route, and say the trains would spoil the reason why they chose to live in Golden Valley: the silence.
Back in June, the council voted 3-2 against the route. It's now considering a new resolution that offers tepid support for the alignment.
That annoyed resident Nancy Huntley.
"Golden Valley has already rejected this. Do we have to keep doing it because they're not satisfied with what we said? Why do we have to keep revisiting this?"she said.
Earlier this year, Hennepin County selected the route over another proposal that would have sent light rail trains through north Minneapolis. That alignment would have cost more and required the removal of 100 homes along Penn Avenue, regional planners said.
Several Golden Valley residents said transit-dependent riders in north Minneapolis might benefit more from having the line.
But resident Christopher Jordan said he found the either-or ultimatum troubling.
"I'm not one for one community being pitted against the other. So I'd like to know when were all the other options were taken off the table? We have so many other areas between the two cities that accommodate this type of infrastructure without having to rip apart a park or rip apart a community," he said.
But for light-rail planners, the Bottineau transitway is a desirable corridor. Mark Furhmann heads federal transit projects for the Metropolitan Council. He says Bottineau is projected to attract 30,000 riders a day by the year 2030.
"It's another critical corridor with high density, with many passengers on par with what we expect to see on Southwest, and what we see today on Hiawatha. It helps build out our 21st century transit system," he said. But to get there, it needs Golden Valley's blessing. The Met Council's policy is to have unanimous support from local communities before escalating the project to the federal level.
Joseph Gladke, Hennepin County manager of engineering and transit planning, said if Golden Valley passes the new resolution in support of the alignment, it still has leverage later in the process. After light-rail planners delve into the engineering and begin to sort out some of the unknowns, the five cities abutting the preferred route will need to provide another round of approval known as municipal consent, he said.
"This isn't the final stop by any means," Gladke said. "This is an informal approval to continue to study, but they ultimately hold that card for later on. We still need every city's approval along the line."
Regional officials would like to continue working on a draft environmental-impact statement, which studies several different alignments, and submit a federal application that promotes one preferred route next summer. Furhmann, of the Met Council, said a year's delay could cause the project's costs to spike by about $30 million due to inflation. The project is currently estimated at $1 billion.
Golden Valley resident Stephen Dent warned his city against passing up a historic opportunity. He noted that the town's population, around 20,000, has remained flat in recent decades. It needs new development to thrive, Dent said.
"When you have development, you bring in more people. When you bring in more people, you bring in talent, you bring in jobs, you bring in tax revenues," Dent said. "Golden Valley needs to do something to stop the stagnation. We can't be this little gem close to the heart of the city and not grow and be some rarified environment."
City council members say they'll take the next few weeks to re-consider the prospect of light rail in their community. Another vote is scheduled for Dec. 18.
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- Morning Edition, 11/29/2012, 7:20 a.m.