Minneapolis strikes deal with Met Council on Southwest LRT

  • Article by: PAT DOYLE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: July 8, 2014 - 10:49 AM

St. Louis Park reschedules action to learn more.

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The Kenilworth Trail alongside a current freight train track that has been a proposed site for the Southwest Corridor light-rail line in Minneapolis.

Photo: Renee Jones Schneider, Star Tribune

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Minneapolis has struck a deal with the Metropolitan Council over the design of the Southwest Light Rail line that includes removing one of two tunnels in the Kenilworth corridor and adding a new station.

The agreement, announced jointly by the city and the Met Council, eliminates a tunnel north of a water channel in the Kenilworth corridor, which means light-rail trains would run at ground level there. A tunnel south of the channel remains in the plan.

Running the light rail at ground level north of the channel allows for a Kenilworth corridor station at 21st Street, which had been scratched as too expensive with a tunnel.

The deal also will "add city-requested pedetrian-access, noise mitigation, landscape restoration and other improvements along the portion of the corridor in Minneapolis," the city and council said in a news release.

"Separately, the parties tentatively agreed to a second memorandum of understanding that commits the Met Council to work closely with the city and the Hennepin County Regional Railroad Authority to ensure that the Kenilworth freight corridor remains in public ownership, which the parties agree will decrease the chances that freight trains will increase in frequency or carry more dangerous cargo through the corridor," the statement said.

The Met Council says its revised budget for Southwest light rail will be reduced by $30 million, from $1.683 billion to $1.653 billion, as a result of these changes to the preliminary design.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. ORIGINAL STORY IS BELOW. CHECK BACK FOR MORE UPDATES.

A potential light-rail deal crafted in closed-door negotiations between transit planners and Minneapolis is catching other communities along the Southwest Corridor by surprise and threatening to delay scheduled votes on the project.

St. Louis Park was poised Monday night to approve plans for the $1.68 billion project, but postponed a vote to learn more about the proposed changes, which Minneapolis officials are expected to disclose for the first time Tuesday.

“This is too big of an issue and there are too many unknowns for us to take a vote based on something that could change in 12 to 24 hours,” said St. Louis Park City Council Member Jake Spano.

The Council rescheduled the vote for Monday, but the latest developments raised the prospect that the project won’t win the approval of all cities along the nearly 16-mile route by a July 14 deadline set by the Metropolitan Council, the agency planning the project. The changes could require additional reviews that might push back approval of the project for weeks.

Dropping a tunnel, turning over half of the resulting savings to Minneapolis for other transit-related improvements and adding a rail station are at the heart of the emerging deal.

The new plans would anger some residents of the Minneapolis Kenilworth corridor, where light-rail trains would run at ground level instead of in a tunnel north of a water channel. It would, on the other hand, please other Minneapolis residents who see the new station as a link to bus routes.

The details were described by two sources familiar with the closed-door talks who said the proposed changes were likely to become the focus of a public hearing Tuesday night in Minneapolis. The agency and city have not confirmed that a deal is in the works or the subject of the hearing, which was announced on the eve of the July 4th holiday.

“The whole approach is designed to mute opposition, not to promote transparency,” Carleton College political science Prof. Steven Schier said Monday.

“So many people were tuned out … going up to their cabins,” said Courtney Cushing Kiernat, who lives along the light-rail path and is critical of the proposed route.

Seeking support

Kenilworth corridor residents have objected to running Southwest at ground level next to existing freight trains, so the Met Council last year proposed tunnels north and south of a channel between Lake of the Isles and Cedar Lake to hide the transit. Residents near the path of the future light rail remained unhappy.

The new deal described by sources involves eliminating the light-rail tunnel north of the channel and running the transit at ground level there. It’s not likely to satisfy the critics.

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  • Railroad tracks run parallel to the Kenilworth Trail on the planned route for the Southwest light-rail line.

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