By Mel Reeves
As Hennepin County and the Metropolitan Council prepare to hear the public’s thoughts on the proposed South West Light Rail Transit (SWLRT), the effort to secure it has created some strange bedfellows. The Met Council has been cheerleading its passing, along with community advocacy groups who see the new rail line as an opportunity for more shared equity.
Even the Star Tribune in a recent editorial called out Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges for failing to take leadership, as well as those who have been beating the equity drum. And some of the Not In My Backyard (NIMBY) opposition to the SWLRT claim that the proposed light rail system will not be equitable but rather “trickle down transit.”
The SWLRT is a $1.68 billion (feds will pay half) proposed light rail project that will stretch 16 miles and run through Minneapolis, Hopkins, St. Louis Park, Minnetonka and Eden Prairie. Those municipalities, along with the Met Council and Hennepin County, must all vote yes for the SWLRT to become a reality.
If approved, work would have to begin right away. It’s projected to begin operation in 2018. It has been estimated that about 220,000 jobs will become available along the train’s corridor.
Corporations, developers and local businesses are already anticipating the rail line. United Health Group is building a $250 million, 1.5-million-square-foot office development between Highways 62 and 212, near where a station is proposed to go. Development has already begun along proposed lines in St. Louis Park.
In Hopkins, construction of a 163-unit apartment building near a proposed downtown station has begun. In Minnetonka, a medical building is being considered near a station there and a medical firm has relocated to the area in anticipation of the development SWLRT will bring.
Local transportation advocates see the SWLRT as an opportunity to increase equity “for real,” especially when it comes to connecting the inner city with suburban jobs.
“It’s one thing to say we can move a lot of people, but quite another to say we can deliver them to a job,” said Russ Freeman, executive director of the Alliance for Metro Stability, which has spearheaded the efforts of several community groups organizing to ensure that all communities get their fair share from the proposed development.
“Southwest would bring thousands of suburban workers into downtown Minneapolis. As important — especially for politicians concerned about ever-increasing inequities in Minneapolis — the line would greatly expand Minneapolitans’ access to the Southwest corridor, which is projected to add 60,000 jobs by 2030.The burgeoning businesses in the corridor need workers. And Minneapolis residents need a transit system that will move them efficiently to jobs throughout the metro area.
“SWLRT is a critical next step in building a metro-wide transit system. If Minneapolis blocks it, support for additional mass-transit projects — including the proposed Bottineau light rail line in the northern suburbs and streetcars in Minneapolis — will no doubt erode,” stated a Star Tribune editorial April 21.
However, as local law professor and activist Nakema Levy Pounds pointed out in a recent Strib commentary, there has been too much talk and too little action.
“I am very concerned that the current debate regarding the implementation of the SWLRT in Minneapolis has failed to take into account the needs of our community,” said Minneapolis NAACP president Rev. Jerry McAfee in a letter to the mayor. “I expect Mayor Hodges to promote the principles of racial equity [and] give the City’s consent for the construction and operation of this project.
“Let me say this as plainly as I can,” McAfee’s letter continues. “If we are not putting money in the pockets of workers from areas like the Northside, then we’re failing on equity. Equity is about jobs and economic opportunity. We have to push solutions that generate wealth in our communities and that deliver clear pathways to living-wage jobs, like the construction trades or the medical/health professions and career connections to other major employers along these transit corridors. This is at least a step in the right direction.”
Several local community groups, including Harrison Neighborhood Association, Northside Residents Redevelopment Council, Jewish Community Action, HIRE MN, Mpls Urban League and Masjid An-Nur led by the Alliance for Metro Stability, have come together to make concrete suggestions on how the SWLRT can serve the needs of communities of color and thus be equitable. Their suggestions were put together in something they call, “Equity Commitments for SWLRT Community Compact.” It includes a goal of 20 percent Disadvantaged Business Enterprise (DBE) inclusion on all SWLRT construction
“This is not just an individual line, but a critical link for the regional transit way,” explained Aasim Shabazz of Masjid An-Nur. “It’s a way to improve our quality of life while advancing those of struggling communities too. Its benefits will continue to grow all of Minneapolis for the right reasons.”
See community group suggestions at thttp://metrostability.org/efiles/Equity_Commitments_for_SWLRT_-_FINAL.pdf.
Mel Reeves welcomes reader response to email@example.com.