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None of the participants at the meeting speculated on the odds of finding a suitable reroute. The Met Council struggled to find options for rerouting freight traffic after the Twin Cities & Western Railroad last year rejected earlier plans for it. Railroads have considerable clout under federal law over decisions to discontinue or move rail lines.
The railroad said it could accept the reroute onto berms at a cost of $200 million because it would smooth out grades and unwind curves of existing track that otherwise could cause a safety hazard. Numerous studies of reroute options have failed to identify other acceptable reroutes.
And a hydrologist hired by the Minnehaha Creek Watershed District said he “does not have serious concerns” about the effects of the tunnels on Lake of the Isles, Cedar Lake and a channel connecting them. The light-rail trains would emerge from the tunnels on either side of the channel to cross a bridge over it.
Haigh had opposed more studies of possible freight routes, but after the Tuesday meeting said, “We want to … bring in another expert to look at the work that’s been done and see if in fact there is anything we missed.”
Dayton said months of additional studies on environmental impact and reroute options might leave light-rail planners with no practical alternatives to the tunnels.
“If there’s only one viable option and this is it, then people will have to understand that’s the reality,” he said.
The Minneapolis and St. Paul chambers of commerce said the tunnel plan is the least disruptive option for light rail and suggested officials were paying too much concern to residents in the Kenilworth corridor who object to the light-rail.
“Our leaders are going to have to think in terms of the entire region, not just one neighborhood,” said Todd Klingel and Matt Kramer, presidents of the Minneapolis and St. Paul chambers.
Rybak and Minneapolis City Council members have pushed to reroute the freight trains in exchange for accepting the light-rail line. But Haigh and others at the Met Council argue that the tunnels are a better option for nearby residents because 220 light-rail trains a day would be hidden in nearly a mile of tunnels next to the current freight rails, which handle a couple of trains a day. If the freight trains were rerouted, the light-rail line would be built at ground level throughout the corridor next to biking and hiking trails.
Pat Doyle • 612-673-4504