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Planners of the biggest light-rail line in the Twin Cities will take another look at moving freight trains out of a Minneapolis recreational area to make room for the new transit and satisfy critics who have stalled it.
But the results of past studies suggest that the odds of finding an acceptable alternative freight route are long.
Gov. Mark Dayton last month called for delaying the $1.5 billion project up to 90 days for an additional freight study and an analysis of the environmental impact of the light-rail line on the Minneapolis Kenilworth corridor. His decision followed opposition in St. Louis Park to rerouting freight to that community and opposition in the Kenilworth corridor to keeping the freight traffic near the future light-rail line.
Dayton on Friday held a fourth closed-door meeting in a month with officials of those two cities, legislators and Hennepin County commissioners in an effort to keep the downtown Minneapolis-to-Eden Prairie line on track.
“The governor’s trying to make sure everyone’s moving together here,” said Hennepin County Commissioner Peter McLaughlin after the meeting. “He’s not raising new concerns.”
A key condition was that St. Louis Park and Minneapolis — with their conflicting interests — accept the scope of the studies. “They’ve signed off on it,” McLaughlin said.
The environmental analysis will look at the potential impact of two light-rail tunnels on nearby lakes. The current Southwest Corridor plan — keep freight in the Kenilworth corridor and hide the light rail next to it in the tunnels — is opposed by homeowners who object to the light-rail trains emerging from the tunnels to cross a water channel.
The Metropolitan Council, the agency overseeing the project, will hire a consultant to review past freight reroute studies and consider a new freight proposal.
Previous studies have rejected several of the options. A study of sending the freight traffic through Chaska concluded: “The complications and delay that could be expected from an environmental review … greatly reduce the attractiveness.” Returning the freight traffic to the Midtown Greenway corridor of Minneapolis “would be in conflict with the community’s vision of passenger rail transit.”
Edina Mayor Jim Hovland, who was involved in discussions about the freight, said, “I don’t hold out much hope on the potential reroute options. The probabilities are we’ll be back where we are right now.”
A couple of the options involve putting the freight trains on two-story berms in St. Louis Park, which drew strong resistance. The consultant also will reconsider routing the freight west of the Twin Cities, which got poor reviews.
The option of returning the freight to the Midtown Greenway corridor that runs through Uptown would face stiff opposition. The old railroad tracks there have given way to bike trails, and city officials want to put a streetcar or light-rail line there to link the Southwest light-rail with the Hiawatha Avenue line.
“The freight would have to coexist with the bike trail; it would squeeze out any rail transit,” said John DeWitt, a leader of a citizens group. “It would face some fierce opposition.”
A new option offered by a railroad union would route freight through Golden Valley. “This proposal really comes out of the blue,” said Golden Valley Mayor Shep Harris, saying the freight might conflict with the Bottineau light-rail line planned for the northern Minneapolis suburbs.