Met Council chair: Southwest light rail work should start in the next year

Alene Tchourumoff in the Kling Public Media Center
Met Council Chair Alene Tchourumoff stands for a portrait inside the Atrium of the Kling Public Media Center on Thursday.
Evan Frost | MPR News

The new Metropolitan Council chair hopes the transit agency will start construction on the Southwest light rail line — the agency's most ambitious project — in the next year.

DFL Gov. Mark appointed Alene Tchourumoff as Met Council chair in June. In an interview Thursday with MPR News host Tom Weber, Tchourumoff laid out what she called a bipartisan agenda for transportation and infrastructure, including the new light rail line.

By the time Dayton's term ends in early 2019, Tschourumoff said she hopes "we will have started the construction of Southwest LRT, we'll have sustainable funding for transit, and we will have elevated the dialogue and discussion around our convening role in water, in particular."

A Met Council spokesperson says construction is scheduled to start in 2018.

The Southwest light rail line, a 14-mile extension of the Green Line, would run from downtown Minneapolis to Eden Prairie. It has been one of the most controversial debates in the realm of transportation.

The GOP-controlled Legislature declined to approve or fund the project last session, but the Met Council came up with a funding mechanism of its own to keep the project alive.

Despite pushback from some Republican lawmakers to restructure and rein in the Met Council's authority, Tchourumoff said transportation is an issue that should bridge the political divide.

"When you boil something like transportation or wastewater down to its core, I think really fundamentally there's bipartisan support for it," she said. "We all recognize the fact that this underlying infrastructure is critical to our communities.

"I think part of what my role is really going to be is about how to develop relationships across the region, and collaborate better; enhance the dialogue."

The Met Council's core functions include work on transportation, wastewater infrastructure, housing and parks.

Before her new post, Tchourumoff was previously state rail director.

Listen to her whole interview with Weber with the audio player above.