The future of Southwest Light Rail grew increasingly unclear Wednesday after the Minneapolis City Council formally stated they oppose using a tunnel to accommodate both freight and transit alongside the Chain of Lakes.
The council unanimously passed a resolution Wednesday saying they oppose the tunnel option, while stopping short of draft language that also promised to deny municipal consent for the project. The tunnels are being eyed by the Metropolitan Council as an alternative to rerouting freight traffic through St. Louis Park, which that community opposes.
Wednesday's vote, which was supported by Mayor Betsy Hodges, puts St. Louis Park and Minneapolis at loggerheads with four months until a June 30 deadline for the cities to agree to the project or lose it altogether. But council members heaped the blame on St. Louis Park, who resolution author Kevin Reich said was "reneging" on an agreement from the 1990s.
During that period, freight rail was relocated from what is now the Midtown Greenway to the Kenilworth Corridor. St. Louis Park received money to clean up a polluted area known as the Golden Auto site.
"They did not just get that money for free," said Council Member Jacob Frey. "In return for getting that money, they promised in no uncertain terms to take the freight reroute when it came time. And it is now time."
Hennepin County Commission Peter McLaughlin said he, too, was angry at St. Louis Park. But he added that the railroad companies have much of the power over the reroute. “It’s about a four-cushion billiard shot to actually get the freight relocation to happen," McLaughlin said.
He warned the council that the line itself was at stake. "This line could be killed. And I don’t think that’s in the long-term interest of the city of Minneapolis," McLaughlin said. "If we’re going to be talking about 'One Minneapolis,' if we’re going to be talking [about a] modern transit system, that is not in the interest of Minneapolis.”
Council Member Lisa Goodman was the most outspoken member on the dais:
“We’ve sat quietly during all the other delicate moments and been hit over the head by a bat," Goodman said. "So now all of a sudden we’re being asked to sit quietly through a delicate moment when you slam this out of the ballpark and shove it down our throats. That’s what it feels like to me."
A previous version of the resolution stated that the council would deny municipal consent if a shallow tunnel option was chosen by the Metropolitan Council. The new version unveiled Wednesday merely said they oppose it.
Hodges said the council was merely restating a position already held by the council. But a 2010 resolution did not state a position on the shallow tunnels, however.
"I am pleased to see the Minneapolis City Council approve this resolution re-affirming the City’s opposition to co-location of both freight and light rail in the narrow Kenilworth Corridor with shallow tunnels," Hodges said in a statement.
The Metropolitan Council responded that "any city council resolution from any city taking a position on Southwest LRT is premature" prior to a recommendation on a plan by the Met Council project staff in April.