Insight News

Feb 13th

Southwest light rail train a must for our community

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490px-keithellisonWhen the Southwest light rail line (SWLRT) is built, a Northside station will bear the name of Van White. Van White, the first African American to serve on the Minneapolis City Council, provides the kind of example we need to do what is right for our entire community. Van White worked hard to overcome barriers, and in so doing he provided inspiration and real opportunities for residents of North Minneapolis and throughout the City. His life tells us that we can surmount the obstacles we face in reaching consensus about the route of the rail line. His life reminds us that we must build the rail line to provide more economic opportunity.

Van White knew it was tough to keep a job if you couldn’t afford to get to it. It’s fitting that the LRT station named to honor him will connect people from every community seeking work to the places where jobs are available.

We face significant income gaps between communities in our region. Minnesota has one of the largest racial employment gaps in the country. The Southwest line will support increased economic equity for our community.

59championCommunities of color make up the fastest growing populations in our state, but are often concentrated in areas with the fewest number of public transportation options. This limits access to jobs, health care, and even amenities like grocery stores.

The Southwest line will bring mobility and access to jobs to people who sorely need it. The areas surrounding the Northside stations have a significant percentage of low-income families. One-third of the families near the Van White and Royalston stations have incomes that are barely above poverty—nearly twice the rate of the region as a whole.
The Southwest line will connect these communities to job centers in St. Paul (72,000 jobs), Eden Prairie (24,700 jobs), the University of Minnesota (15,000 jobs), St Louis Park (11,200 jobs), Minnetonka (11,000 jobs), and Hopkins (8,500 jobs). Increasing access to jobs is key to helping narrow the economic gaps in our region.

In addition, light rail will bring development around the station areas themselves. The Harrison Neighborhood, for example, has worked to revitalize the area around the Van White Station, which led to the city zoning the area for the kind of neighborhood development Van White envisioned.

What's more, the SWLRT will create thousands of much-needed construction jobs. Current estimates project at least 4,000 construction jobs will be created during the building of Southwest line, with a goal of 32% minority hiring. The total payroll for these jobs will be at least $330 million over three years during the heaviest construction.
The clock is ticking. The Counties Transit Improvement Board (CTIB) passed a resolution on February 19 to withdraw its 30 percent funding share from the project on June 30, 2014, unless there's an agreement in place. Without CTIB funding, the Southwest line is history.

Half of the funding for the project will come from the federal government. With the current Congress, transportation funding is flat or declining, and there are many competitor cities that would be eager to take our funding should we fall behind.

Minnesotans directly impacted by the project must have their views carefully considered. We must make every attempt to mitigate the impacts of the project. But the time is now for our leaders and communities to come together.

If we succeed, then generations will know that in the Twin Cities you can get where you are going quickly and affordably using light rail. To achieve our vision of a vibrant, equitable region we must extend our metro transit system and build the Southwest rail line.

Rep. Ellison will host a community forum on transit equity on March 31st, 2014, 5:30 pm at the Summit Academy OIC at 915 Olson Memorial Highway, Minneapolis, MN 55405.


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