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Minnetonka To Legislators: Support Southwest Rail Transit

City officials tout the economic benefits of the proposed line.

The is urging state legislators to support the line. Minnesota’s legislative session begins Tuesday.

“This is on our list every year, because it is a high priority of the city,” Minnetonka’s city manager told local legislators at a city-hosted breakfast on Friday.

The Southwest line would connect with the Central Corridor Light Rail, Hiawatha Light Rail and Northstar Commuter Rail at a station next to Target Field. It would run 15 miles through Minneapolis, St. Louis Park, Hopkins, Edina, Minnetonka and Eden Prairie.

The Metropolitan Council projects the Southwest corridor will add 60,000 jobs by 2030. Most roads along corridor have no room to expand, and adding lanes where possible cannot support the additional jobs, the council says.

“Our concept of planning is all oriented around the light rail for the Opus area and for the Shady Oak Station,” Gunyou said. “It is an important factor in our future development, and it serves our employment area.”

The cities of Minnetonka and Hopkins are working collaboratively on the station.

“The long term implications of the value it creates for our community, to have a resource we can build on, it’s something that we’ll benefit from for many, many years,” said .

Schneider said those working on the project need to be creative on finding ways to make the light rail support itself. State Sen. Terri Bonoff (DFL-Minnetonka) suggested using the state’s car lease tax.

“We’ve never been able to capture that lease tax and put it toward transportation,” she said. “That’s $45 million a year, and that’s just one example.”

The bonding bill will likely see opposition from some Republican lawmakers. Rep. Michael Beard (R-Shakopee), the Transportation Policy and Finance Committee chairman, has pledged to stop the Southwest light rail line "in its tracks."

Sen. David Hann (R-Eden Prairie) is also a self-described skeptic.

“It’s not that I don’t think there is value—I think there is,” he said. “I think just as a person who is interested in making sure the federal government is spending money that is appropriate for federal government to spend, it is hard for me to say how a 15-mile transit line from Eden Prairie to Minneapolis is within the scope of the federal government.”

As a back-and-forth debate continued Friday morning on the light rail, Bonoff commented “And this is what it’s like at the Legislature.”

Last week, the three largest Minnesota chambers of commerce declared their support including the proposed line in this year’s state bonding bill. The TwinWest Chamber of Commerce­, which includes Minnetonka businesses, the Minneapolis Regional Chamber of Commerce and the Saint Paul Area Chamber of Commerce, released a statement backing Gov. Mark Dayton’s plan to include $25 million in the bill toward the $1.25 billion total project cost.

The three chambers—which represent more than 3,000 businesses across the Twin Cities—argue that the light rail line is needed “to ensure the region remains a strong and competitive place to grow jobs.”

The state would eventually need to provide $95 million more, in addition to this $25 million and $5 million it has already put toward the light rail. The state’s share would be matched 9-to-1 by federal and county contributions, including a federal share of $625 million.

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