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Minneapolis, Minnesota

Discussion and drama surrounding the routing of the proposed Southwest Light Rail Transit line in the Twin Cities reminds me of the freeway that was proposed for Minneapolis’ Hiawatha Avenue in the 1960s, the increased resistance of the south side neighborhoods to the depressed ditch in which such a freeway would have been laid out and constructed, and the emergent support for a boulevard-and-LRT alternative.

Then, as now, experts, interest groups, and politicians at the city, county, state, and federal levels had studied, run their numbers, and shaped the terms of the debate for years. It was not a strong suit of these folks back then to hear and incorporate input from the people who would be impacted most by any construction. Nor did they exhibit any propensity to imagine or consider meaningful alternatives.

At a point in 1975, when most of the skids appeared to have been greased and the possibilities for alternatives seemed lost, the southern neighborhoods sent busloads of people to downtown Minneapolis late on a winter’s night to meet with Congressman Donald Fraser in a late effort to obtain any kind of intervention on behalf of city residents. The time and place for that meeting were the only ones that bureaucrats insisted could be found for a meeting with the congressman.

Eventually, the congressional appropriation for a freeway-only option on Hiawatha was stopped or ameliorated, and additional years of study and carrying on at all levels finally resulted in completion of a boulevard-and-LRT alternative when the Hiawatha LRT line opened in 2005. At 40 years, it was possibly the most-planned project in Minnesota history. For at least 25 of those years, we were warned repeatedly that the federal funds in support of any project along the Hiawatha corridor were going to go away. They possibly did, several times.

If we need to delay the Southwest LRT line by five-to-10 more years in order to get it right, the world will not end. Nor will federal funding disappear forever and all time.

The line should be routed and run where the people are, and not where we hope they might be someday. We should build the line south from downtown on Nicollet Mall/Avenue to Lake Street, then west to Uptown, and thence southwest to Eden Prairie.

Couple this construction with the forever-taking-proposals to rid the civic landscape of the K-Mart store at Nicollet and Lake that has closed off one of our major thoroughfares since the 1970s. That would allow for the future possibility of an LRT line that continued down Nicollet and across the Minnesota River to Burnsville and Lakeville.

Alternatively, route a Southwest LRT line south to Eden Prairie from somewhere on West Lake Street. Then, if the presently proposed streetcars prove to be all that hot-n-tot, they can be used to connect the Southwest line at West Lake to the downtown portions that run on the Hiawatha, Central, and (proposed) Bottineau corridors.

We really don’t need to screw up the ecosystem of the Minneapolis lakes along the presently proposed Kenilworth Corridor with either deep or shallow tunnels. Plus, the folks who live around those lakes pay some of the highest property taxes in town to Minneapolis and Hennepin County, and we need all of their money to run those units of government.

It took 40 years to change our collective group think and intellectual infrastructure about freeways and LRT. We have not devoted, and it will not take, anything near 40 years to think through the newer challenges posed by the Southwest LRT line and get them right.

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