There is a very real threat that we may lose all funding for the Southwest Corridor light-rail line. We either build light rail in shallow tunnels or abandon the project; those are our two options.
Whether or not the project is ever built, freight will remain in the Kenilworth corridor. While we are extremely disappointed in the railroad’s uncooperative behavior, freight rail has undergone dramatic changes in recent years, and some are holding out for a solution that no longer exists. We have both been passionate advocates for our trails, rails and neighborhoods. We have strongly supported relocation of freight. We never anticipated the current impasse involving Southwest light-rail transit, freight rail and the Kenilworth corridor.
Before we make this momentous decision, we should acknowledge three important facts.
1) We are getting our money’s worth.
The true value of any light-rail line lies in its contribution to an overall network. For example, the proposed Kenilworth alignment for Southwest LRT plays a vital role serving north Minneapolis through transfers at the Royalston Station. The network would be further strengthened by future rail transit along the Midtown Greenway — ideas range from a version of light rail to streetcars, with transfers at the West Lake Street Station — the “Network Alignment.” Such an approach would be less costly and serve far more residents of Minneapolis than would a Southwest line that uses a Midtown Greenway/Nicollet Avenue alignment:
- SWLRT Kenilworth (3A): 28,700
- SWLRT Midtown Greenway/Nicollet (3C-2): 28,850
- Network Alignment; SWLRT Kenilworth (3A) + Midtown Greenway Line: 39,700
Capital cost, 2019
- SWLRT Kenilworth (3A): $1,683 million
- SWLRT Midtown Greenway/Nicollet (3C-2): $1,949 million
- Network Alignment; SWLRT Kenilworth (3A) + Midtown Greenway Line: $1,907 million
- SWLRT Kenilworth (3A): $25.448 million
- SWLRT Midtown Greenway/Nicollet (3C-2): $32.235 million
- Network Alignment’ SWLRT Kenilworth (3A) + Midtown Greenway Line: $33.448 million
Routes on Hennepin or Lyndale Avenues would have been very costly, requiring long tunnels and significant commercial disruption, and would still not have achieved the higher ridership of the Network Alignment.
In 2014, we made significant progress on the Greenway Line with completion of the Midtown Corridor Alternatives Analysis. In February, the Policy Advisory Committee unanimously recommended rail transit in the Midtown Greenway along with enhanced bus on Lake Street as the locally preferred alternative. This recommendation will be forwarded to the Metropolitan Council, where it is anticipated that it will be incorporated into its next transportation policy plan. If built out as recommended, Lake Street has the potential to become one of our region’s most successful transit corridors. This will not happen without Southwest light rail.
2) There are many benefits vital to Minneapolis.
Becoming the hub of a growing rail transit network will significantly improve regional access to our central business district. This access is critical for the continued growth and vitality of downtown and of our tax base. Furthermore, Southwest light rail would be funded with federal, state and county dollars.
With Southwest LRT in Kenilworth, a cost-effective and equitable Greenway Line could serve Uptown; high-transit-ridership neighborhoods along Lake Street, and the area around Wells Fargo and Abbott Northwestern Hospital — one of just three designated growth centers in Minneapolis. The Nicollet alignment of Southwest LRT would have served only the downtown growth center. The Met Council has designated south Minneapolis along the Greenway Line as one of the city’s racially concentrated areas of poverty.
Adjacent population and employment numbers projected for Minneapolis in 2030, excluding downtown, show that the Network Alignment would serve many more residents and jobs in our city.
- SWLRT Kenilworth (3A): 16,665
- SWLRT Midtown Greenway/Nicollet (3C-2): 55,254
- Network Alignment; SWLRT Kenilworth (3A) + Midtown Greenway Line: 83,260
- SWLRT Kenilworth (3A): 12,940
- SWLRT Midtown Greenway/Nicollet (3C-2): 15,201
- Network Alignment; SWLRT Kenilworth (3A) + Midtown Greenway Line: 41,469
3) We can preserve the Kenilworth Trail.
Both of us bike and love the Kenilworth Trail. We can visualize attractive post-construction landscaping. The trail would be different, but it would remain a valuable natural resource. Light-rail trains would not pass at grade in the narrows of the corridor. We could enjoy the trail away from the trains north of 21st Street, where the corridor is much wider.
Our beloved trails would not exist at all without our community’s partnership with the rail authority, which purchased the Midtown and Kenilworth corridors for transit purposes. We should acknowledge the benefits to our city and region of sharing our trails with thoughtfully designed rail transit.
A 21st-century city? In a recent McKnight Foundation report on the Twin Cities’ competitiveness, Jay Walljasper wrote: “Even with the soon-to-open Green Line, we’re still behind places like Dallas, St. Louis, Calgary, San Diego, Baltimore and Salt Lake City on rail transit, not to mention our A-list competitors.”
The shallow-tunnel option may well be our last opportunity to start catching up with our competition. In exchange for co-location, let’s seek resolution to issues like West Lake Street station planning and the park channel crossing. Let’s all agree not to build the project if there is no funding for the tunnels. We, too, are so disappointed that this project has resulted in controversy and failed promises.
Despite these disappointments, Minneapolis still would receive enormous benefits from Southwest LRT, all paid by our partners outside of the city. Cost would be competitive and ridership excellent. Our trail would remain a valuable amenity with trains underground. What kind of city do we want to be? It is time to decide. The consequences of our decision will be felt for decades to come. Let’s build it now.
Bob Corrick was a Southwest LRT Policy Advisory Committee (PAC) member and is past president of the Midtown Greenway Coalition. John DeWitt was a PAC member for the Midtown Corridor Alternatives Analysis and co-chaired its Citizens Advisory Committee. He also was an alternate Southwest LRT PAC member, co-founder of Transit for Livable Communities and a board member for the Midtown Greenway Coalition. They live in the Cedar-Isles-Dean and Prospect Park neighborhoods, respectively.
About the projections
Capital cost, operating cost and ridership are from the Southwest LRT draft environmental-impact statement (2012), Chapter 8 Financial Analysis, the Midtown Greenway Corridor Alternatives Analysis (2013) and the latest Southwest LRT Project Office capital cost (2014). The 2012 and 2013 capital costs were brought forward to 2016 (conservatively) at the Federal Transit Administration’s 3 percent annual inflation rate. Minneapolis projected population and employment data are from the Minneapolis Comprehensive Plan, Appendix B, adopted by the Metropolitan Council. Further information is from the Met Council’s draft Thrive MSP 2040 plan.