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Rerouting freight to St. Louis Park would have required removal of 30 properties there. Keeping the freight in Minneapolis and burying the light-rail line nearby would spare those St. Louis Park properties. It also would spare Minneapolis townhouses that would be razed to make room for the transit if it were built at ground level next to freight tracks and recreational trails in the narrowest part of the corridor south of Cedar Lake Parkway.
But the tunnels wouldn’t be bored from underground; they’d be dug from above and covered, work that would require removal of 1,000 trees and temporary relocation of the bike trails during construction.
St. Louis Park and some of its residents actively opposed the freight reroute, which would have put trains on two-story berms in the suburb. The tunnels that evolved as an alternative would bring the total cost of the project to $1.55 billion, up from $1.25 billion earlier this year.
Rybak told fellow leaders Wednesday that Met Council assurances haven’t convinced him that the construction and operation of the tunnels would safeguard the levels and quality of water in the channel, Lake of the Isles and Cedar Lake.
“I am the mayor of the City of Lakes, lakes that all of you people at this table have not only used but your residents use,” Rybak said. He said more study is needed on what happens “when we are digging tunnels, in an area with water flowing in so many directions.”
Susan Haigh, chairwoman of the Met Council, cited a hydrologist who wrote that he “does not have serious concerns” about the impact of the tunnels on lake water or groundwater.
Rybak also said planners haven’t done enough to challenge resistance by the Twin Cities & Western Railroad to finding new options for rerouting the freight. He said he supports running light rail through the corridor and will “stay at the table and try to make this work.”
“I want to support this project. But right now this is not the best possible way to do it.”
After the meeting, he declined to elaborate on what he meant by staying at the table or the prospects of the plan being adopted.
After the meeting, Haigh declined to say whether her agency would try to impose a plan over the objections of a city. The state law on consent spells out a complicated give-and-take process in which cities withholding approval can suggest amendments to a Met Council plan that set the stage for negotiations over several months. But the process could seriously delay the project and threaten its future.
Two candidates for Minneapolis mayor, Mark Andrew and Betsy Hodges, also oppose the tunnel plan and reacted Wednesday to the recommendation by the metro leaders. “This was precipitous,” Andrew said. City Council Member Hodges called for a more thorough analysis “by people who are independent.”
Pat Doyle • 612-673-4504