Compared to cities like St. Louis Park and Minneapolis, Minnetonka hasn’t faced many heated debates around Southwest Light Rail within its borders. That doesn’t mean this year’s council candidates are united in support for the project, though.
At last week’s League of Women Voters candidate forum, At Large Seat B candidate Brian Grogan criticized escalating costs on the now-$1.55 billion project. The other candidates were all in favor of the project—although mayoral candidate Grace Sheely said she, too, worries about the cost.
Here’s what the candidates had to say.
- “I’ve been a longtime supporter of the Southwest Light Rail. As a matter of fact, I’m in the thick of things with serving on the Southwest Light Rail Management Committee—the one with Jan Callison, the commissioner. You know, we’re trying to wraps some of those tough decisions to make sure that the line, in fact, becomes a reality. It’s not an easy task. There’s a lot of balancing issues with environmental impacts, access, perception and funding. It’s a real challenge to make sure you can do the right thing as a long term, permanent investment, but yet gets the support of the Legislature and the various funding sources. So I think we’re close to reaching that balance. It’s not going to be easy. But I have a fortunate opportunity to play a leadership role in making that happen.”
- “I personally am very in favor of light rail transit. I think we have to be prepared for gasoline to go over $5 a gallon at any time. And I think we have very few options if that does happen. And whenever it does, I see people straining for how they’re going to get to where they’re going. I am concerned, though, when I talk to residents because Minnetonka residents do not understand either where it’s going or how it’s going to affect their life in a positive way. I am just hearing that they feel like we’re creating it for the other cities on the line. And I would like to educate them further on how it may be a really good resource for them. They need to understand where it is and that we can ride our bike into the Shady Oak station and take our bikes downtown. To me, that’ll be just a lot of fun. Light rail at any cost, I think, is probably my question. I’m frugal by nature, and I think that we may be exceeding the amount of dollars that we can pay for it. So we’re going to have to take a very careful look at what we’re doing.”
Council Member at Large A
- “As one who—with a number of you out there—ride on or drive on 394 in the morning and the evening and on 494, you know that we need a balanced, multi-modal approach in Minnetonka and throughout the region actually. We Just can’t build more and more roads and get out of congestion problems. What we can do with Southwest Light Rail transit line and the bus service, which we did upgrade this year, is to give us a better balance, give people the opportunity to travel downtown on a mode of transportation, light rail, rather than just in their single-occupancy car. Also, give them an opportunity to work out in our area, like in an area like Opus, if they live downtown and not have to fight traffic. So I’m a big supporter of the Southwest line.”
- “I’m very happy about the Southwest Light Rail coming through Minnetonka, and I hope they’re not going to change the route all the way down to Mitchell Road. I hope that doesn’t come about because I’ve been a bus rider. And I know how hard it is if the buses are only going in 394 to downtown or they’re going to Eden Prairie. Where I live, you can go down to the Eden Prairie side or you can go on to 394. But to have something that goes across, I think Minnetonka has needed that for so long. This whole area has needed it for so long—and I’m very happy about the 614 bus, too, by the way. So I’m happy about the light rail. I hope that that problem that is in the other cities—I hope they get solved because I hope it goes through.”
Council Member at Large B
- “My position on the Southwest is that I am absolutely in favor of it. I think that the Southwest Light Rail has many benefits to our city. It has benefits for transit, as far as providing another option for our commuters in days when traffic is and congestion is getting worse all the time. It also will provide some opportunities and economic development around the two stations that we will have in Minnetonka—hopefully we’ll have in Minnetonka—over on Shady Oak Road and then Opus. There will be some opportunities for redevelopment in those areas, so it’ll be a benefit both in transit and in economic development.”
- “I’ve traveled by train. I lived in New York City, took an Amtrak from New York to Washington to Boston and traveled throughout Europe on trains. I love trains. I don’t think America is ready for trains in the Midwest. And to be perfectly honest, much like the Northstar rail that sits empty and runs at millions of dollars a year going into it, the Southwest Light Rail is another one that starts out at $1.2 billion, now it’s $1.5 billion, soon to probably be $1.7 billion, and I bet you when it’s all said and done it’ll be north of $2 billion. And then how many people will ride it? You know, honestly I do think we need to get smarter on how we measure return on investment. I am a finance guy. I have an MBA out of Wisconsin. I understand that we’ve got to look at internal rate of return on our investments. And ultimately, it should be usage. If you only have 10, 20, 30 people using something and you spend $4 billion to run it, I don’t think it’s a wise use of public funds. So it’s going forward. We know it’s going forward. It’s unfortunate, though. I honestly think that if private enterprise knew that it was profitable and worthwhile, they would develop it. We are a state, we’re a county, we’re a city of drivers.”