LRT fight centers on freight corridor in Minneapolis, St. Louis Park

  • Article by: PAT DOYLE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: July 14, 2013 - 4:48 PM

Light-rail planners are rapidly approaching crucial decisions that will shape the line’s design and could increase its cost.

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To make room for the future Southwest Corridor light rail line, urban planners came up with an idea: route conflicting freight train traffic down the middle of the St. Louis Park High School football stadium.

Photo: Photos by RENÉE JONES SCHNEIDER • reneejones@startribune.com,

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One way to make room for the future Southwest Corridor light-rail line: Send freight trains down the middle of the St. Louis Park High School football stadium.

“If they did that, the value of our house would plummet,” said Carmella Anderson, who lives three houses away.

Another way: Put the light-rail line alongside the freight trains in the wooded Kenilworth corridor of Minneapolis, an area cherished by bicyclists and hikers.

“Minneapolis cares about its green space,” said Angie Erdrich, who lives near the parkland. “Why would we squander that?”

Crucial decisions are fast approaching that will please some Twin Cities residents, anger others and could add millions of dollars to the projected $1.25 billion cost of the metro area’s third light-rail line.

The federal government, which would pay half the cost, insists that local planners resolve a fight over freight trains before moving forward with the Southwest Corridor. Construction on the light-rail line between downtown Minneapolis and Eden Prairie is scheduled to start in 2015.

Neighborhood residents eager to have freight trains moved from the Kenilworth area held a rally Saturday, handing out leaflets to trail users and door-knocking at nearby homes.

Southwest planners are eyeing eight possible route options for either moving the freight traffic to St. Louis Park or keeping it in the Minneapolis Kenilworth corridor. The St. Louis Park options rely on building berms as high as two stories for the freight. The Kenilworth options include elevating the light-rail line above the freight traffic or sinking a deep tunnel beneath the freight. The planners’ decision could come this summer.

Wherever the freight goes, local government will be buying dozens of homes and businesses to make room for it and the Southwest Corridor.

The Metropolitan Council, the regional agency in charge of the project, is working up cost estimates for all of the options and expects to have them ready within the next couple of weeks.

“Cost is a factor, but the impact on the neighborhoods is a big factor,” said Met Council member James Brimeyer, who represents St. Louis Park. “I have not taken anything off the table.”

Railroad softens stance

Opponents of a freight reroute in St. Louis Park thought they had the railroad on their side because Mark Wegner, president of the Twin Cities and Western Railroad, said an earlier version would have created unsafe curves and grades.

But Wegner says the two reroute designs now being considered by the Met Council avoid those problems.

“We could bring our trains through there safely,” he said.

Wegner also expressed concern about whether there would be enough room in Minneapolis for both the light-rail line and freight cars that could be hauling oversized items like wind turbine blades. “We can’t crimp capacity for freight,” he said.

Both of the new reroute options would take freight now running through the Kenilworth corridor of Minneapolis and move it farther north and west into St. Louis Park. The change could increase freight traffic from 10 to perhaps 30 trains a week on existing tracks in St. Louis Park and also put them on a stretch of new tracks in that city.

  • related content

  • The Cedar Lake Trail, which runs alongside a current freight train track, has been a proposed site for the Southwest Corridor light rail line in St. Louis Park. Another proposal is to sink the LRT line in a 30-foot-deep tunnel under the freight line.

  • The many bicyclists and hikers who treasure the wooded Cedar Lake Trail have mobilized to fight a proposal that would have the Southwest Corridor light-rail tracks take out the trail, which runs alongside a freight train track.

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