Alene Tchourumoff, who chairs the Minneapolis-area Metropolitan Council, said transit and infrastructure are bipartisan issues that are vital to the region. She hopes the light-rail project is underway by the time Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton, who appointed her to the post in June, leaves office in 2019.
State Republicans previously voted not to fund the 14-mile line, which will connect downtown Minneapolis with suburbs to the southwest. The Council came up with its own financing plan, making the rail a point of contention ever since.
Republicans and the Metropolitan Council aren't the only ones fighting it out over the future of the Southwest LRT. Dayton jumped into the fray last summer, backing the Council's efforts to come up with the $145 million necessary to secure almost $1 billion in federal funds. Local counties stepped up and agreed to finance the missing piece.
Dayton and the Council have previously stated that they hope to eventually persuade the state Legislature to approve financing for the project, but state Republicans have not mellowed in their opposition to the project. In February, they introduced a resolution that would have authorized them to request that the Federal Transit Administration divert $929 million away from the light-rail extension and into state road and bridge projects, even though the Council had yet to officially apply for the FTA money.
The FTA responded that the Southwest grant could only be used for major capital projects and not the suggested assortment of road and bridge work.
The Metropolitan Council also must resolve lawsuits filed by locals who either don't want the project to move forward or who are requesting additional environmental reviews. One group of condominium owners near the proposed route wants the rail to pay for a study on how the trains' vibrations will affect their building, according to the Star Tribune. Another group opposes the rail project's plan to cut through a recreational area used by pedestrians and cyclists.
It's not the only light-rail project to face pushback from locals. A lawsuit temporarily derailed the $5.6 billion Purple Line light-rail project in Bethesda, MD, for nearly a year. A group that includes residents of Chevy Chase, MD — a popular suburb of Washington, DC — challenged the rail's ridership numbers, a critical part of its environmental review. A federal judge revoked its state and federal approvals and ordered a supplementary review, but an appeals court reinstated the project's status, clearing the way for construction to begin.