Southwest LRT committee considers Kenilworth tunnels - My29 WFTC Minneapolis-St. Paul

Southwest LRT committee considers Kenilworth tunnels

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MINNEAPOLIS (KMSP) -

It was a packed house Wednesday morning as the Southwest Light Rail Corridor management committee gathered to discuss plans for two shallow tunnels under the Kenilworth neighborhood of Minneapolis.

A key committee of the Metropolitan Council did not vote on the new plan to bury a portion of the line underground after the city of Minneapolis criticized the plan, and members say they want more feedback from the community.

So far, neighbors in the areas affected by the plans appear to be warming to the tunnel plan.

"It's been going on for so long and I thank them so much for not disrupting so many peoples' lives by tearing down so many homes," Lil Erager said.

WHY SHALLOW TUNNELS?

Mark Fuhrmann, who leads light rail project development for the Metropolitan Council, has laid out the following advantages of the shallow tunnel plan:

- Most cost-effective solution
- No homes or businesses will be acquired
- Kenilworth Trail will be preserved long-term
- Most similar to current conditions

The new cost estimate for the Southwest LRT Green Line is $1.56 billion, up from the $1.25 billion that didn't include an estimate to address the location of freight rail in the corridor.

The first tunnel would start on the north side of West Lake Street and take the trains underground until reaching the channel between Cedar Lake and Lake of the Isles. A second tunnel would take trains from that location until just north of West Franklin Avenue.

Two years ago, the Federal Transit Administration asked the Metropolitan Council to study options to keep freight rail in any light rail route through Kenilworth, in addition to studying how to reroute freight trains to St. Louis Park.

"It is less expensive than the options we looked at to reroute freight rail through St. Louis Park -- $40 million less expensive," Fuhrmann said. "In the long run, we believe it will add much more economic development to the line and much more vitality."

Rerouting freight trains would have required the railroad to build a two-story berm to elevate the tracks, but residents are still concerned about noise and disruption. 

"Right now, there's just a couple of trains that run a day. There's just a little straightening of the pictures that goes on -- but if they were to reroute it through [St. Louis Park], there would be much longer trains and much more vibration than what we have here now," said Terri Spencer.

NEXT STEP

The LRT committee will review the draft recommendations Wednesday. The Metropolitan Council will vote on the plan on Oct. 9.

If approved, plans will be forwarded this month to Hennepin County and officials at the five cities on the Green Line for sign-off by late 2013.

TIMELINE

If the Green Line plans get county and municipal approval, the following schedule is expected:

2014: Engineering designs finalized
2015: Construction begins
2018: Green line service begins

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