Metropolitan Council Certification Review

By Shawn Smith, of Kenwood

Every four years, the FTA and Federal Department of Transportation recertify the Metropolitan Council. Certification is necessary in order for The Council to continue to receive federal funds. The FTA determines whether there will be certification, certification with a corrective action plan, or no certification. Some of the criteria used for the determination include transparency and public engagement in planning transit, good stewardship of limited federal dollars, and adherence to ethical standards. Since 2011, I have been an active and vocal participant in the process to plan Southwest Light Rail. When Senate Candidate Bob “Again” Carney learned that there would be an opportunity to testify directly to the FTA on this matter, I headed over to The Council’s headquarters with Bob, George Puzak, and Stuart Chazin.   Here is my testimony:

My name is Shawn Smith and I live in the Kenwood area of Minneapolis. I am a director on the Kenwood neighborhood board. I am not speaking on behalf of that organization. I mention it to demonstrate that via that role, I am familiar with the topic of Metropolitan Council’s planning process, and Southwest Light Rail is the best example I can provide.

I want to call attention to The Metropolitan Council’s unchecked power. Because I care about Kenwood and Southwest Minneapolis and what I’ve observed in the planning process for Southwest Light Rail and its impact on us.

The project is at $1.9B and climbing. I was glad to hear you say that your review is to ensure that limited federal funds are spent wisely – it sure doesn’t feel like the Council recognizes this. Although SWLRT is significantly over budget, expensive vs flexible modes of transit, it doesn’t serve transit dependent populations in Minneapolis, only a small number of cars are removed from the highways, and it doesn’t reduce carbon emissions, this train is still coming. What kind of process is this where so much public money can be spent and the results do not meet basic transit criteria?

The Met Council chair stated that this line would not be built without bipartisan legislative support, but the train is still coming. What kind of process is this when representatives elected by the people have said “no” and they are ignored?

The Met Council chair stated that certificates of participation or county funding would not be used to cover the state’s 10% share of the project cost, but the Governor doubled down and “over ruled him” and the train is still coming. What kind of process is this where one person can have so much influence? And since the state won’t pay – the most negatively impacted by this project might now have to pay for it via new taxes?

More Citizen Advisory Committee meetings have been cancelled than have been held (our neighborhood has a CAC representative). But this train is still coming. What kind of process is it when the Council doesn’t see the importance of regularly engaging the public at the frequency that was promised?

There is a viable lawsuit contending that other Minneapolis routes were not properly considered. It will not be heard in court until September 2017, but this train is still coming as though there were no lawsuit. What kind of process is this when hundreds of millions are already being spent but the whole project could be derailed a year from now?

What kind of process is it when representatives of the Met Council arrogantly say they are confident this train will be built because “every light rail project dies 1000 deaths before the first rider?”

What kind of process is it when the best argument to build the line is that if we don’t, $900 million of federal funds will go to another city?

We need, and expect, greater accountability here. The Council no doubt has a ready talking point for all of the concerns I’ve mentioned. But when power is unchecked, and the end justifies the means, you don’t get accountability. And that’s why this train is still coming. Thank You

Please keep reading this paper for continued updates. I favor a vibrant, forward looking, transit system that serves Minneapolis. But this line is already becoming a bottomless pit of spending. And those that can hold them accountable need to know the full story. And you can still testify. Email me at ssmith288@me.com to find out how.

Also printed in the Hill Lake Press