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Continued: Costs rise as dispute stalls Southwest Corridor light-rail line

  • Article by: PAT DOYLE , Star Tribune
  • Last update: March 23, 2014 - 12:09 AM

Southwest and a trolley extension in San Diego remain in the preliminary phase.

Southwest can’t proceed until it resolves the dispute over freight. Supporters worry about the competition.

“There are going to be a lot more people going after the same pot of money,” Hennepin County Commissioner Peter McLaughlin told the panel that bankrolls metro transit projects.

That panel, the Counties Transit Improvement Board (CTIB), has spent $18 million since 2012 to help pay for preliminary engineering. That money comes from a quarter-cent sales tax in the five-county Twin Cities metro area that is used for transit improvements.

Hennepin County, where the line will run, has spent another $6.8 million and the state spent $5.4 million on the early engineering.

Focus on Minneapolis

Much of that work has been on developing options for rerouting freight or digging light-rail tunnels. After St. Louis Park objected to a reroute that would have put freight on two-story berms near homes and a school, the Met Council offered a new version that many city residents still found unacceptable.

Now the agency and area leaders are mulling a new tunnel plan that would run light-rail trains under a water channel in the Minneapolis Kenilworth corridor to satisfy critics who objected to the light-rail trains surfacing from tunnels to cross a bridge over the channel.

Tunneling under the channel could add $40 million to $85 million to an earlier tunnel option rejected by Minneapolis.

“I think it’s going to take some leadership by folks in Minneapolis to recognize that freight rail is not going to move,” Hennepin County Commissioner Mike Opat, a member of CTIB, said after a board meeting last week.

Ramsey County Commissioner Jim McDonough, also a CTIB member, said the city faces a crucial decision.

“It really does come down to Minneapolis at some point,” McDonough said, adding that some kind of tunnel option “seems to satisfy the most issues for the reasonable amount of money.”

“Minneapolis really has to decide does that make sense for everybody or … to just say, ‘We’re not going to allow Southwest to be built because we don’t know that makes sense for us,’ ” he said.

Mayor Betsy Hodges on Friday said the Met Council hasn’t provided enough details to Minneapolis residents on how the latest tunnel plan would work. But she said its construction would be “even worse” than the previous tunnel plan, with “more loud pile driving, more truck traffic, to remove more dirt.

“We already know what would work: rerouting freight out of the Kenilworth corridor,” she said.

Overriding objections?

State law requires the Met Council to seek the consent of the five cities along the nearly 16-mile route.

The statute provides for weeks of give-and-take, during which the cities can offer amendments that the agency can adopt or reject.

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