Local Leaders React to DEED’s Rejection of Southwest Light Rail

The project tied for the lowest score among 37 applicants competing for $47.5 million in bonding money.

(DFL-District 46A) didn’t mask his thoughts when news came down that the Southwest Light Rail Transit project had come in behind a new minor league ballpark in St. Paul, a wastewater project in Litchfield and a downtown development initiative in Duluth that includes a new parking ramp.

Winkler took to Twitter to express his frustration, firing off a series of tweets Tuesday criticizing the Department of Employment and Economic Development:

  • “Someone at DEED should be fired if they think a Saints Ballpark creates more jobs or has a bigger regional impact than a new LRT line. #OK.”
  • “DEED rankings are absurd--shows no knowledge of economics or total disregard of it.”
  • “MN needs a plan for economic prosperity involving innovation, education and greater opportunity, not ballparks and stadiums.”
  • “Given pool of money to invest in infrastructure and growth, @PositivelyMN (DEED) picks ballpark and athletic fields. Win for sod industry.”

Other west metro leaders were more tactful, but the news remained a downer for many supporters who’ve seen .

The $14 million request tied for last place among the 37 projects that applied for a piece of the $47.5 million available in bonding money. It received just 24 points out of a possible 100. Only a $1.3 million Carver housing infrastructure project scored as low.

(DEED also removed 53 applicants during initial screening and did not score those.)

Projects were scored on readiness, job creation, investment and leverage potential, regional impact and “other public benefits—with Southwest near the bottom in every category.

"I would say we're both surprised and disappointed that the evaluation was as low as it was," Met Council chairwoman Sue Haigh told the Pioneer Press. "It's a project that is really critical to job growth in the region ... and has strong support from the business community."

(DFL-District 46) said Southwest likely didn’t lend itself as well to the criteria established for this pot of money. He thinks DEED was looking for projects that would have immediate effects.

Southwest received just seven out of 25 points in the project readiness category, and engineering is just beginning. By contrast, the St. Paul stadium received 22 points.

“You wouldn’t see an immediate return in terms of jobs and money flowing back into the economy—as you would with the Saints stadium,” Latz said.

also acknowledged that the projects that scored highest seem to be "shovel ready." He said it's a good sign that SW LRT was even among those projects that were scored, adding that regional light rail might score higher in coming years as plans become more concrete.

"I'm an optimist about all this," he said. "We're in the hunt, we're in the race ... That's good news."

Judy Johnson, the government affairs director at the TwinWest Chamber of Commerce, said her organization knew the process was going to be competitive because there were several projects seeking funding from a limited pot of money.

But TwinWest— with the Edina, Eden Prairie, Minneapolis Regional and St. Paul Area chambers—still thinks there is a strong business case to be made for the project, she said.

“From the chamber’s point of view, we’re just going to continue educating our candidates and legislators and just march forward with getting funding in the next session,” Johnson said.

Not all of those candidates are upset about the project’s failure, though.

“What’s the slogan? Twenty people ride, 200 people pay,” said , the Republican challenger for House District 46B. “It just has to pay for itself.”

Not that Arvidson was any happier with some of the highest-ranked projects, such as the St. Paul minor league stadium. He said voters need to stop letting the government use public funds to prop up private projects. Public infrastructure projects are better, but even then Arvidson said voters should be asking whether the state should be involved—or whether the city or county could take care of it.

DEED’s scores are not the final word on the funding allocations. Gov. Mark Dayton will review the scores and decide which projects get money.

If Southwest still doesn’t receive funding, Latz plans to sponsor a bill in the next legislative session to provide the money. While the project may have not fit the narrow goals of the DEED money, it’s a good fit for a traditional bonding proposal, he said.

“It’s a real business issue. It’s not, I think, a political spectrum issue. It’s a party issue,” Latz said. “The foundation is there. We just have to get past the partisan politics to make it happen.”

Simon also said he would support bonding bill dollars getting funneled toward light rail. Whether this actually happens, the legislator said, hinges on who's in control of various transportation committees when the Legislature convenes next year.

"I think a lot depends on the outcome of the election," Simon said.


Scores for Metro-Area Projects

Applicant Project Request Amount Points St. Paul St. Paul regional ballpark (Saints) $27 million 77 Minneapolis School District No. 1 Update athletic facilities $2.8 million 65 Maple Plain Street, sewer and water line projects $930,500 58 Maplewood East metro public safety center $1.3 million 49 Corcoran Water tower construction $1.1 million 40 Bloomington Bloomington central station public improvements $1.4 million 33 Oak Park Heights Redevelopment area $1.4 million 32 Three Rivers Park District Cross-country trail improvements in Bloomington $3.7 million 30 Carver County CDA Infrastructure for apartments in Waconia $2 million 29 Dakota County Trails and visitors center $3 million 29 Carver County CDA Infrastructure for housing in the City of Carver $1.3 million 24 Metropolitan Council Southwest Light Rail Transit line $14 million 24
Norman Teigen September 11, 2012 at 08:32 PM
Ron Latz has a good handle on this matter. It shows that stadiums do have an impact on the local economy. We will see this in the near future when the new Vikings stadium construction begins. Governor Dayton is in a better position to evaluate the value of these issues. I certainly hope that he will look favorably on the LRT project. I believe that light rail is important to the SW metro and, of course, Hopkins
Scott Rickhoff September 12, 2012 at 01:12 PM
No... we don't have the money. None of these special interest projects, stadiums, 19th century train systems can operate without millions of taxpayer subsidies in the out years. Before spending billions, can someone tell me what a train does that a bus system cannot do better? If any of these project could run in the black, would be built and ran privately. These "bridges to nowhere" create nothing but additional taxes and contribute little to communities for the expansive cost vs bus system. What ever happened to all that bravado and anguish about corporate cronyism? But no one seems to have an issue about special interest cronyism?
Chris September 12, 2012 at 02:39 PM
Scott, 'Public good'. It is an interesting concept; a good example is lighthouses. Every shipping company could build them, every shipping company should build them. But none did. Trade on the Lakes suffered (shipwrecks being bad for business) until the the government stepped in and built them. Trade flourished. Roads and rail are the same. Except rail is cheaper in the long run. This is why there were trans-continental railways in the 19th century, but no highways until the mid-20th century. I know some people do not like rail simply because it is not-a-car. Nobody is going to take away your car. Some of us would like other options to get from point A to point B. Freedom of choice and all that crazy stuff, eh?
David September 12, 2012 at 03:28 PM
Rail is not cheaper in the long run. The cost to maintain a rail system far exceeds a street system that can do dual duty with private cars, trucks and other vehicles we need for commerce. Show me your citation that proves it. As for you having 'freedom of choice' in your transportation, you have that now. You just want the rest of us to pay for your choice. I exercise my freedom of choice not to subsidize your social engineering fantasy with my tax dollars. Seven miles of track in the SW corridor will cost $1 billion to build. We can patch up a lot more roads, bridges and buses with that money to be used by far more people than a light rail train will ever carry. This is nothing more that progressive liberal social engineering to for people to take the mode of transportation THEY want us to take. So much for 'freedom of choice.' See here for costs: http://www.metrocouncil.org/transportation/SW/SWFacts.htm
Scott Rickhoff September 12, 2012 at 05:30 PM
Chris, we are not talking about lighthouses.. ( If someone proposed a lighthouse I suspect your ilk would think that was a good idea too?) We are specifically talking about useless billion dollar plus train systems. Please get your facts straight regarding transit trains. BTW, can of the train supporters share with us how many transit train systems exist today without subsidies? Or how many are operating in the black? Or to make it easier for you how many trains were removed from service in the past 100 years because of maintenance expense compared to running much cheaper alternative like buses?
Chris September 12, 2012 at 07:11 PM
What is one bridge going to cost to cross the St. Croix river? To serve how many people? Are only the users of that bridge going to pay for it, or will we all be paying for a bridge that saves a few thousand people a few minutes in their commute? Roads, rails, canals are all forms of transportation that get subsidized to provide something that gives all of us a benefit. We should stop dredging the 9' channel and destroy the locks on the Mississippi? Never mind ambiguous claims of 'social engineering', that is some major *physical* engineering. As far as the belief that roads are superior to all. How did they come about? How many were privately built? The Interstate system? Local roads? I thought there was an amendment to the state constitution to fund roads. Shall we repeal that and let them survive on their own merits? How is insisting that nothing else gets funded, except roads, not a form of 'social engineering'?
Chris September 12, 2012 at 07:19 PM
...and yes, I like lighthouses. I also like their modern incarnation- GPS. Much cheaper to use than launching my own satellites.
John Swanson September 12, 2012 at 10:08 PM
Representative Winkler needs to grow up and act like an adult rather than flying off like he does so often when he doesn't get his way. He needs to take a lesson from Senator Latz.
Veronica September 13, 2012 at 12:13 AM
Chris is just a commie. If you want any of this done, go get a shovel. What's up with the government subsidizing public transportation, roads, and highways with MY tax money? Next time I'll ask the government to subsidize my bicycle.
Cynthia Ann Sharp October 17, 2012 at 11:05 PM
We don't need a train to down town. We don't need to spend everyone's money on something only a few may use. Creating jobs should be about helping small businesses grow the economy. Improving the bus system, making it less time consuming to use the bus would make it more profitable and save the jobs that exist there. Has no one considered this?
Cynthia Ann Sharp October 17, 2012 at 11:14 PM
Who will benefit from the light rail, I mean, who has their eye on this as a pet project and what do they plan to gain from it? In the early 1980's in Louisiana, Bossier City Mayor, Anding, was selling the idea of dredging the Red River so that boats could travel down the river. And they did just that. They went once down the river, docked in Shreveport/Bossier City and they are floating Cascino's. They did all of this because they couldn't get gambling legalized on land. So...who is after what in all this? And shouldn't the the first question we are asking be. Why?


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