Long portions of steel rails were delivered on Monday to St. Louis Park near a future station along the Southwest light-rail route, a sure sign that construction on the $2 billion project has begun.
The rails arrived by a special train to a spot between Highway 100 and Beltline Boulevard beginning Monday morning — a process that will continue Tuesday and possibly this weekend. They’re part of an overall shipment of about 54 rail segments, each spanning about 1,600 feet long.
In addition, parts of two popular bike and pedestrian trails were closed Monday, as right of way is prepared to make way for the 14.5-mile light-rail line. Southwest, which will link downtown Minneapolis to Eden Prairie, is expected to begin service in 2023.
Part of the Cedar Lake LRT Regional Trail will be closed through Hopkins and St. Louis Park until the fall of 2021. The portion of the Kenilworth Trail in Minneapolis that closed begins at the intersection with the Midtown Greenway, extending northeast to south of W. 21st Street. The Kenilworth Trail will reopen the summer of 2022, according to the Metropolitan Council, which is building the project. Detour signs will direct cyclists and pedestrians to alternative routes.
Work has already begun along the entire light-rail corridor, which also touches Hopkins and Minnetonka, including surveying and staking, relocating utilities, and digging out trees, shrubs and plants.
But tree and plant removal has sparked protest by residents who live near the Kenilworth corridor in Minneapolis.
Last weekend, a group of residents replanted dozens of native wildflower plants from the Kenilworth corridor slated to be upended by the Southwest project. The plants, including cup plants, bee balm, swamp milkweed, sedges and blanket flowers, were replanted in safe areas, said Minneapolis resident Angela Erdrich. About 70 containers of plants were relocated.
“The prairie habitat is very important for bees and birds,” Erdrich said. “This is a valuable habitat.”
As of Monday, 2,845 people had signed a petition asking Gov. Tim Walz to delay cutting down more than 1,000 trees along the corridor until $929 million in federal funding for Southwest is ensured. The petition was expected to be delivered to Walz on Tuesday.
The plea follows a letter written last month to Met Council Chair Nora Slawik from several state and local elected officials who said if federal funding flounders, “elimination of this unique, urban forest preserve and passageway would be a reckless and irreversible mistake.”
Slawik replied that any further delays in construction of the line could result in the cost of the project increasing and push out its opening date.
The council is awaiting an invitation to apply for a grant from the Federal Transit Administration (FTA). That could happen as early as this summer, said Met Council spokeswoman Kate Brickman.
“We’re making progress in terms of construction, so that’s good, that will help [with the FTA],” Brickman said.