The Free Press, Mankato, MN


November 9, 2013

Appearance of favoritism clouds light rail deal

Why it matters: Democratic donors appear to have unusual influence on the location of the Southwest Corridor light rail line


Dayton also contends planners need to study the impact of the tunnels on nearby lakes, but the newspaper reported an earlier study found no problems.

The opponents that live in the more affluent part of Kenilworth include Democratic fundraiser Jim Smart and retired business consultant David Lilly Jr. They make no secret that they are opposing the project and that they are influential, with Lilly telling the Star Tribune: “This is ultimately about politics.”

That may indeed be the case, but if light rail planners consider re-routing the project, they will inevitably run into the Not-in-my-backyard syndrome and will then have unfortunate choices of picking winners and losers with an appearance that money talks.

An earlier plan for a longer tunnel that would have gone under the Kenilworth channel would have cost $330 million, a price that surely would appear to average Minnesotans as a bit on the high side to placate some affluent friends of Democrats. Planners rightly rejected the idea as well.

Re-routing the light rail will involve almost going back to the drawing board. At one point planners were going to reroute a freight train line to St. Louis Park to make room for the light rail above ground. But that plan also faltered.

Any further accommodation of Kenilworth residents should be based on sound planning, engineering and efficiency standards we should apply to all public works projects. Any reason short of those will appear based on the undue influence of the influential.

Light rail has long been championed by mostly Democratic political leaders. It has always been a case of requiring some private sacrifices on the part of neighborhoods and citizens to bring about a greater public good.

It may be difficult to accommodate homeowners in Kenilworth without appearing to be serving private good at public expense.

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