Cities at odds over freight train reroute for Southwest LRT

  • Article by: KELLY SMITH , Star Tribune
  • Updated: November 13, 2012 - 4:54 PM

Freight traffic would be moved to St. Louis Park to make room for light rail.

Light-rail trains won't be clamoring through Minneapolis and the southwest suburbs for several years, but Minneapolis and St. Louis Park are already sparring about where noisy, heavy freight traffic will end up.

Residents of the suburb have gathered 1,500-plus signatures of residents who support the proposed Southwest light-rail line but oppose rerouting freight train traffic to their neighborhood to make room for the light-rail line near Minneapolis' affluent Kenwood neighborhood.

The cost to reroute is $123 million more than to keep the freight next to the light rail in Minneapolis, so it would be a non-issue if the two cities weren't involved, said Thom Miller, co-chair of Safety in the Park.

"Instead of 'us versus them' it would be a discussion about what is the best route for freight trains," he said. "It's not necessary to reroute."

Minneapolis' director of transit development, David Frank, said keeping the freight in Minneapolis wouldn't give enough room to bike and pedestrian trails that run next to the tracks. They're digging in as well: Relocation of freight remains one of the city's requirements in a 30-page report it'll submit to Hennepin County.

"That's a fundamental, unbreakable ... position," Frank said of relocating freight.

Both sides will have a chance to make their points at public hearings that begin next week and in feedback gathered until Dec. 11. St. Louis Park residents are planning a protest before Wednesday's meeting at their City Hall.

Commissioner Gail Dorfman, a former St. Louis Park mayor, represents both cities, but supports rerouting freight trains to St. Louis Park.

"I understand their concerns and we'll keep listening to them," she said. "[But] I think this is a win-win for St. Louis Park in all respects, as long as we adequately mitigate for the freight rail."

Noise, vibration elsewhere

Construction on the $1.25 billion project is slated to start in 2015, with the line opening in 2018.

The final decision of whether to reroute the freight trains rests with the Metropolitan Council. Details on specific effects on communities and efforts to mitigate problems like noise will come in a final document released after the Met Council reviews the input gathered by the county.

"It really helps shape what will be looked at in the engineering process and what will be looked at in the final environmental impact statement," said Katie Walker, the county's project manager.

The proposed light-rail line will go from Minneapolis to St. Louis Park, Hopkins, Minnetonka and Eden Prairie, with 17 stations proposed along the 15-mile route. All of the cities will be submitting their own feedback to the county, listing concerns about noise, vibration and other issues from passing trains. According to the county's draft environmental impact statement released last month, 201 parcels of land could experience severe noise from high speeds of light-rail trains or warning signals.

In Minnetonka, the city wants to ensure noise and vibration are reduced for businesses and doesn't want trees, wetlands or trails near the line to be affected, said Julie Wischnack, community development director. The same is true in Eden Prairie, where City Planner Mike Franzen said he wants to prevent construction from harming businesses, roads and intersections.

And in St. Louis Park, noise and vibration from passing trains could be the highest, since rerouting freight trains from Minneapolis to St. Louis Park could cause severe noise from horns at crossings and significant vibration to nearly 500 residences.

'Do it the right way'

While the St. Louis Park group is pushing city and county leaders to keep the freight traffic in Minneapolis, the Kenwood Isles Area Association will be submitting its own comments to the county, including support for relocation. The neighborhood also is worried about noise, visual effects and safety issues.

Hennepin County Commissioner Jan Callison, who represents some west metro cities, said planners will try to alleviate or address noise and other negative effects. "We want to deal with it [negative impacts] where we can," she said.

As for mediating between concerns in Minneapolis and St. Louis Park, Dorfman said that the draft environmental report doesn't recommend keeping the freight in Minneapolis and she has concerns about safety hazards it could pose for commuters who might have to cross the freight line at stations in St. Louis Park.

"I support the relocation," she said, "but I think it's important to do it the right way and what's right for the neighborhoods in St. Louis Park."

Kelly Smith • 612-673-4141 Twitter: @kellystrib

  • IF YOU GO

    Minneapolis: 4 p.m. open house followed by 4:30 p.m. public hearing Tuesday at Hennepin County Government Center, 300 S. 6th St.

    St. Louis Park: 5 p.m. open house followed by 6 p.m. public hearing Wednesday at St. Louis Park City Hall, 5005 Minnetonka Blvd.

    Eden Prairie: 5 p.m. open house followed by 6 p.m. public hearing Nov. 29 at Eden Prairie City Hall, 8080 Mitchell Road.

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