The Southwest Corridor promises to add almost 16 miles of light rail track between Eden Prairie and Minneapolis, but the exact route the trains will run still isn't on a track city leaders would prefer.
When the green line gets going, it'll link Minneapolis with the southwest suburbs -- but exactly how hasn't been decided just yet. On Thursday, consultants hired by the Metropolitan Council weighed in on the environmental impact of the new line and whether or not existing trains should be rerouted away from it.
After looking at 9 alternative plans to re-route freight trains through the Twin Cities, the consultants found there are only two viable options:
1. Keep existing freight traffic in the Kenilworth Corridor alongside the light rail between Cedar Lake and Lake of the Isles.
2. Re-route trains through St. Louis Park without the two-story berms that had aroused community concern about safety.
"We feel like we've got two viable corridors in the area," Jim Terry explained.
A separate report found that two shallow tunnels to carry light rail traffic through the Kenilworth corridor wouldn't have a major impact on the water quality of the nearby lakes as long as freight traffic can remain where it currently is.
Yet, the two options aren't sitting well with the mayors of the respective communities they'll traverse. Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges was pleased to see the consultants discuss somewhere other than Kenilworth.
"There's no option on the table that will make everyone happy," she conceded. "We need to be clear about that. There may be options on the table that were better than before."
Meanwhile, city leaders in St. Louis Park remain keen to put the brakes on any plan that would re-route freight traffic through that community.
"It feels like what we've seen in the past so it makes it hard for me to imagine it's going to get any traction in St. Louis Park," Jake Spano said frankly.
In the end, the Metropolitan Council will have to decide where to keep the trains running -- and soon. They must present both reports to business and citizen advisory boards before the public can weigh in at town hall meetings next month. The council hopes to put the final decision to a vote by the end of March.
STATEMENT FROM MINNEAPOLIS MAYOR BETSY HODGES
The great news is, there seems to be a viable relocation option on the table. Last year we were told that the only two options on the table were a two-story tall berm in St. Louis Park and two "cut and cover" shallow tunnels in Minneapolis, both of which were going to be very expensive and come with heavy impacts on our communities. That's a pretty bleak and expensive set of choices.
With today's reports, we now have better options to explore. While I know there is still no outcome that everybody will love, for the first time, we have options that allow us to spread the burden among all of our partners.
Nobody is going to get everything they want – not Minneapolis, not Saint Louis Park, not the railroads – but this report gives us hope that we can find a solution that benefits everyone. I look forward to digging into these reports further and hearing from my constituents.
STATEMENT FROM ST. LOUS PARK MAYOR JEFF JACOBS
The results of the draft technical studies released today were on one hand encouraging to St. Louis Park officials and on the other extremely discouraging. While we have not yet had the opportunity to review the results of the consultants' work in detail, we were very encouraged to hear that the draft Water Resources Evaluation found that there should be no negative impacts to the ground water or the lakes in Minneapolis as the result of a shallow LRT tunnel being installed in conjunction with at-grade freight rail tracks. However, we were extremely discouraged, disappointed, and quite frankly shocked that at the 11th hour a so-called viable freight rail reroute through St. Louis Park has now been identified by the consultant.
Based upon the overview we received, it appears the reroute plan identified by the consultant is just another version of previous alternatives that have been identified and studied over the years. We are skeptical that this last-minute process designed to appease political considerations could possibly yield such dramatic differences from the months, if not years, of previous study.
There are many potential negative impacts that have not been thoroughly addressed that include, but are not limited to noise, vibration, odors, traffic congestion and safety, school use and safety, park use and safety; potentially diminished property values; and, circulation/access in the community by vehicle, pedestrian, transit and bicycle. We're not sure how a study completed within just weeks could come anywhere close to resolving these questions that months and years of previous studies could not. We are confident that after the consultants work has been thoroughly reviewed it will once again be found that the reroute concept identified is unworkable as well.
Viable options have been identified to allow for LRT and freight rail to co-exist through the Kenilworth Corridor. Given this fact, and our clear position on this issue dating back to at least 2001, it is difficult to see a path forward to municipal consent in our community should it now be concluded that freight rail traffic should be rerouted in St. Louis Park.