Lack of transparency and stifling public comment a concern
Tracey Pennie used to live along the Blue Line in South Minneapolis but says she had to move because her quality of life declined after it opened. Years later, she finds herself fighting the same battle in North Minneapolis, where she distributed flyers to more than 700 people on the West Broadway corridor about plans to extend the Blue Line through the community.
Forty-five of those people, many of whom are Lyn-Park residents, showed up at a monthly healing circle hosted by the local NAACP chapter, where people can discuss and work through the issues they face. All except one were there because they opposed the transit line extension going through North Minneapolis, citing the Metropolitan Council’s handling of the Southwest light rail construction, and that the project isn’t designed to serve their community. They are also frustrated that the Met Council and Hennepin County staff, who were invited by Lyn-Park residents, did not show up at the healing circle and are ignoring their concerns.
Calls for transparency stem from a March 6 incident, where project staff did not allow Lyn-Park residents participating at a Met Council and Hennepin County Blue Line extension meeting to ask questions in an open forum. “I’m not gonna do a meeting like that,” said Cynthia Wilson, president of the Minneapolis NAACP chapter who was there and tried to convene an open forum. “I may have the same concerns as somebody else. And I think meetings like this should be open, so that people can share with other people.”
The strategy of quelling public comment in an open forum is actually one Met Council and Hennepin County staff are employing to ensure they hear everyone’s thoughts and include those who do not want to voice their ideas publicly, especially in an open forum. It is a tactic employed by other cities, counties and transit agencies nationwide.
“The workshop format of the meetings has been designed to speak individually with as many attendees as possible, answering specific questions and hearing feedback from many voices,” said project spokesperson Trevor Roy. He adds that they plan to host public hearings where community members can voice their grievances in an open forum as part of the federally required environmental review process.
Indeed, the situation the Met Council and Hennepin County were looking to avoid played out at the circle, where several attendees tried to heckle an individual who they believed was an informant, sent by the agencies—a bald White guy in a dress shirt—who was the only person in the circle that supported the project going through West Broadway in North Minneapolis.
Although he was not an informant, the man who attendees thought was a spy opposed the alignment some Lyn-Park residents support, which is to route the light rail extension west on Highway 55 to Highway 100, then Highway 100 north to Robbinsdale. Lyn-Park residents support the highway alignment based on their belief that the project is designed to only shuttle suburbanites to and from downtown.
“The train going down [Highway] 55 bypasses all of us [and] reduces our options. It takes all those people from the western suburbs, and it just gives them a faster way to get into downtown and bypass our community and the ability for us to develop here,” said the man.”
The Met Council did not comment on whether this alignment is being studied as part of the environmental review process, although both entities conducted a route modification report in 2021 that found support and significant light rail ridership potential on West Broadway, with no mention of the Highway 55 and Highway 100 alignment.
Meeting attendees were also concerned about the Met Council’s ability to handle light rail construction, given a project they are currently working on—specifically the Southwest Light Rail project to extend the Green Line southwest to Eden Prairie by way of St. Louis Park, Hopkins, and Minnetonka’s Opus neighborhood. The light rail extension is a billion dollars over budget and the completion date has been delayed from 2021 until 2027.
The Met Council adopted a policy last fall to guide their due diligence in planning major transitway projects, such as the light rail, moving forward. On April 26, they will also decide to award three contracts worth a total of $123.8 million to two separate contractors to engineer and manage the project. A third contractor will receive a contract to keep the two contractors in check.
Even with these measures in place, the Met Council anticipates the Blue Line extension project being delayed until 2029, as the project team needs more time to complete the environmental review process, seek support from city councils and the Hennepin County Board, and work on designing the alignment, stations and construction plan.
Even before the Met Council and Hennepin County broke ground on the project, it was already disrupting local businesses. North News reported earlier this month that the West Broadway Business Coalition has decided to cancel their annual FLOW Northside Art Crawl, which was to take place in July, citing the need to support businesses that may be displaced and affected because of light rail construction.
Councilmember Jeremiah Ellison, the only public official present at the healing circle, alluded to supporting the project so long as the Met Council works on anti-displacement, supports West Broadway businesses, and builds it on Washington Avenue. He discussed it while explaining the local support process, called municipal consent.
“[Municipal consent is] essentially the one tool that the City has to influence the project,” said Ellison. “If we get to this point and the project says, ‘Councilmember, it’s gonna be Lyndale, and there’s gonna be no anti-displacement work,’ then I’m gonna say there’s no municipal consent. If the project team says, ‘We can make Washington work, we’re going to invest in anti-displacement work, [and] we’re gonna make sure businesses are taken care of on West Broadway,’ then I’m starting to think we’re getting closer to a conversation around municipal consent.”
Terry Austin, who is the director of community engagement at NEON (Northside Economic Opportunity Network), and who Trevor Roy said represented the Met Council and Hennepin County at the meeting, said the next several months will be crucial to deciding how businesses and residents will survive as the agencies move forward with the project.
“We are fighting very hard to make sure we have resources,” said Austin. “But we have got to make sure it is enough so that businesses and residents can survive.”
As part of the impact assessment, the University of Minnesota Center for Urban and Regional Affairs will suggest what anti-displacement measures local communities, Hennepin County and the Met Council should be taking in early May.