Sabo Urges Minneapolis City Leaders to “Say No” to SWLRT

The following story was aired on KARE 11 on June 19, 2014.  The original broadcast can be viewed at


MINNEAPOLIS – A former member of Congress from Minneapolis got on board efforts to derail the Southwest Corridor Light Rail (SWLRT) project. Martin Sabo represented Minnesota’s 5th Congressional District from 1979-2007. The SWLRT would run from Minneapolis to Eden Prairie.

Speaking in the Minneapolis City Hall rotunda, Sabo called on city leaders to be “heroes…and say ‘no’ to Southwest light rail.”

Sabo argued that the SWLRT plan does little for the “mobility of the people in Minneapolis.” “I know the downtown business community is pushing hard for this plan’s approval,” said Sabo.

“To them I simply say that doing a $25 million Nicollet Mall rehab will have greater impact on people wanting to live, work and visit downtown than the planned $1.7 billion LRT project.”

Sabo told a small assemblage of SWLRT opponents that his daughter lives in the Kenilworth Corridor area. That is the narrow isthmus between Lake of the Isles and Cedar Lake in South Minneapolis. The SWLRT plan calls for putting light rail trains into two shallow tunnels under existing bike and walking trails, while keeping an existing freight rail track.

The Kenilworth plan has drawn criticism from a number of residents along the trail area and it has become the most contentious issue along the entire SWLRT route. Sabo’s comments drew criticism from proponents of the project.

“We think the project would benefit residents in Minneapolis and all throughout the region,” said Russ Adams, Executive Director of the non-profit Alliance for Metropolitan Stability. “This is a regional project and for him to isolate it down to one stretch of the corridor and say we should not build the project because it is going to have some impact, is a mistake.”

Sabo repeatedly criticized the cost of the project. “For something that expensive, you would expect big results,” he said. “Instead, you get little results and, for Minneapolis, you get mediocre response and mediocre results.”

“The notion that folks in Minneapolis will not benefit is absolutely ludicrous,” countered Adams. “In the build out of Southwest LRT project alone, there is an aggressive equitable hiring goal.

“Thirty-two percent of people of color would be hired for the build out of that project. That is over $100 million in wages.”

The concept of the Van White LRT station in Minneapolis leading to economic development on the city’s north side was scorned by Sabo. “That was the PR attempt by, I do not know what public relations people, to try and sell it for awhile that this was something that did great things for the northside , which I thought was just despicable and, frankly, so blatantly untrue, it was laughable.”

Harrison Neighborhood Organizer Kennedy Willis took exception to Sabo’s remarks. “We disagree vehemently, I would say, the residents of the community with the idea that it would not support development, economic and community in the northside.”

As the Metropolitan Council moves through the slow process of obtaining “municipal consent” to the project by the five cities the SWLRT passes through, Sabo doubted the line’s benefit for suburban communities.

“I do not think it is great for these suburban communities either,” said Sabo. “I do not think there is a single mayor of those (5) mayors who would approve, have their city approve a project through their community that was basically commuter-based and had so little benefit for their residents. They would not do it! They would be run out of town!”

Hopkins city officials have approved the plan. Saint Louis Park and Edina are to vote later in June. Eden Prairie intends to vote in mid-July. The Southwest LRT is the third light rail line in the Twin Cities,after the Hiawatha (Blue Line), from Minneapolis to Bloomington, which opened in 2004 and the Central Corridor (Green Line), from Minneapolis to Saint Paul, which opened earlier this month.

Half of the $1.7 billion Southwest LRT funding is from federal transit funds. If the project were to be terminated, those hundreds of millions of dollars would go to other cities planning light rail projects. It is not known what the impact would be on future federal funding for other planned LRT projects, including the 4th project, the Bottineau line, running from Minneapolis to the northern suburbs.