Jami LaPray's St. Louis Park neighborhood is a sort of side street for trains that roll by twice a day. But she fears it could become a busy freight train highway if the Southwest Corridor light-rail line sends triple the number of trains through her city to make room for light rail in Minneapolis.
"They're asking us to give up a lot so the rest of Hennepin County can gain a lot," she said. "People are very concerned."
Her group is rallying residents to oppose moving trains that now go through Minneapolis' Kenilworth corridor to St. Louis Park's MN&S tracks to accommodate the Southwest Light Rail Transit (LRT) -- a line that will go through Minneapolis, St. Louis Park, Hopkins, Edina, Minnetonka and Eden Prairie. While the group, Safety in the Park, supports light rail, it opposes rerouting trains and now hopes to sway the Metropolitan Council.
Just 35 feet from those tracks is the high school, where about 50 residents met Saturday to discuss the plan. They say more freight trains will add noise, disruptive train vibrations, heightened risk of derailments, decreased property taxes and dangerous crossings. Trains, they say, should stay next to light-rail tracks.
"That's the easiest, safest and quickest way to get light rail in our community," said Thom Miller, co-chair of the group. "If you support LRT, then you should oppose the reroute."
Mayor Jeff Jacobs, though, said he's focused on preparing his city for added freight train traffic. While he opposes the reroute, ultimately he'll support it if it's what the Met Council approves. "The decision frankly rests with the Met Council," he said. "It's like being opposed to winter -- you can oppose it, but it's coming."
'A catastrophic mistake'
Saturday's meeting comes ahead of this month's three public hearings on the draft environmental impact study released last month. The report says moving freight traffic would cause "severe noise impacts ... due to the freight locomotive horn noise" at crossings and nearly 500 residential units would experience significant vibration from trains. But, it said, benefits would outweigh potential adverse effects.
Residents don't agree.
Orange signs opposing the reroute dot streets. Some 1,500 residents signed a petition by LaPray's group that they'll present at a public hearing Nov. 14. They'll also address the City Council at a Nov. 13 meeting.
"This is going to affect our quality of life," said Claudia Johnston, a Planning Commission member. "It's absolutely been ignored by Hennepin County -- none of these issues have been dealt with."
In early 2014, the county and all six cities will vote on giving consent to the Met Council's plan, which needs support from all seven. For St. Louis Park to be the lone opponent, "would be a catastrophic mistake," Jacobs said.
"I'm not going to recommend withholding municipal consent because that would kill light rail," he said.
Making their voices heard
LaPray said she'll support the reroute only if proper mitigation measures are put in place, which aren't in current plans and could be costly.
The three rail companies involved -- Twin Cities & Western Railroad, Canadian Pacific Railway and BNSF -- haven't commented publicly yet on the county's report, but Twin Cities & Western President Mark Wegner said "it needs to work with freight rail."
The Met Council will make a decision next year. Construction on the $1.25 billion project is slated to start in 2015 with the line opening in 2018.
LaPray, whose family home of 50 years is near the tracks, wants concerns answered before it's too late. "If we make our voices heard, we will be listened to," she said. "And we can make a difference."
Kelly Smith • 612-673-4141; Twitter: @kellystrib