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Southwest LRT’s path hung up by two intractable positions

Southwest LRT
Metropolitan CouncilThe 15.8-mile Southwest LRT Project would extend the Green Line from downtown Minneapolis through the southwestern suburban cities of St. Louis Park, Hopkins, Minnetonka and Eden Prairie.

The path of the Southwest LRT line seems to have become as stuck as the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Fortunately, it's happening in Minnesota; so there has been no violence, just clenched jaws, letters to the editor and threats of a lawsuit.

There are basically two intractable positions. On one side is Minneapolis, which insists that it will tolerate the LRT line running along a shallow tunnel through the scenic corridor between Cedar Lake and Lake of the Isles only if the freight line that now operates there moves to St. Louis Park. On the other side stands St. Louis Park, which adamantly refuses to accept the freight train because it would have to travel along a berm or bank of land two stories tall. That would divide the town in half and look just plain ugly, and, believe me, I grew up there, St. Louis Park has plenty of ugly spots already.

Sensing perhaps that open warfare might break out or that the whole LRT project could founder on this disagreement, Gov. Mark Dayton in October delayed the Metropolitan Council's vote by 90 days to allow study of alternate freight train routes and to investigate whether a tunnel in Kenwood would harm the water quality in the Chain of Lakes. The Met Council in turn laid all these weighty matters off on outside consulting firms who are due to report their findings sometime this month.  

Meanwhile, a friend of mine, a resident of Kenwood, came up with another idea — a simple solution. The Met Council, he suggested, should buy the Twin Cities & Western Railroad. Its revenues, according to Dunn & Bradstreet, are only about $11.5 million a year. They could be more, but by definition, a Class III short-haul train carrier, which is what TC & W is, earns less than $20 million annually. The company is privately held, so I have no idea how much it is worth, but even if it is capitalized at only 10 times earnings, the Met Council would have to pay $110 million to $200 million to acquire it.

What would the Met Council do with a freight rail company? Well, it could sell it to another company that might be less particular about the route.

Safety worries

But when I talked to TC&W's CEO Mark Wegner, he didn't strike me as being an obstinate fusspot. The company had been negotiating first with Hennepin County and later with the Met Council over the route, and his biggest concern was the safety of operations. In initial plans, he explained, the proposed route was too curvy to accommodate a train. A second plan was worse; not only was it too curvy, but it required the trains to climb a steep grade and then complete a series of S's on its way to an intersection. When presented with S curves, trains tend to straighten out and leave the track. "The physics wouldn't work," he says. After that came a plan where the train undulated — also not great. Finally, the Met Council came up with the two options: leave the train where it is or put it on a berm in St. Louis Park.

Wegner has no particular preference. As long as the route is safe, and as long as it wouldn't require a hike in rates to his customers, it would be acceptable. "It's a tough situation," he says. "No matter which way it goes, someone is gonna be mad."

And problem is, even if the Met Council bought TC&W, it wouldn't be able to sell to anybody else unless the company had a viable route. Even if the Met Council itself ran the line, Minneapolis and St. Louis Park residents would still be purple with rage about the route.

Would purchasers be lined up? TC&W does have a unique selling proposition — unique-ish, anyway. Because its route intersects with those of several other rail carriers, its customers can ship their goods far out of the area without using trucks. Wegner says that business is trending upward, and the company was putting all its extra money into improving the lines. If business picks up further, he adds, TC&W would probably start re-investing in railroad cars. That doesn't sound to me as though the company is rolling in cash.

Of course, the Met Council could buy the TC&W and simply shut down the entire operation. Then it wouldn't have to worry about the freight route at all. It's unlikely, however, that federal regulators would allow that. Trains are much more energy-efficient than trucks, and the U.S. Department of Transportation would like to see trains move a greater portion of the nation's freight, 50 percent instead of the current 40 percent.

Economic impact

I didn't want to break Wegner's heart and ask him about the economic impact should TC&W be put out of business. Besides, the company had already commissioned and published its own report called "Economic Impact of TC&W Railroad's Freight Operations." It's not too revealing. The line carries about $1.5 billion in client goods annually or 2.4 million net tons of goods. (Net tons means without the weight of the rail cars.) The company has about 70 employees; so they would be out of work, and presumably, the line's customers who include producers of wheat, vegetables, soy beans, metals and so on, would have to make other arrangements to ship their goods, which might make them more costly.

In any case, putting a going concern out of business would be a pretty drastic solution, one that would still cost upwards up $150 million. Moving the bike and pedestrian paths in Kenwood to the other side of Cedar Lake would be much less costly. For maybe $20 million, the Met Council could offer a lavish biking route with heated pathways and free lattes all the way to downtown.  

I know, I know. There are a million arguments against that idea too. What this all proves is that there is no "simple solution." Some of us are going to have to make compromises — or give up on mass transit altogether.

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Comments (59)

I have no real dog in this

I have no real dog in this fight, since I don't live or work along this new line, nor drive on any of the roads that might get less congested.

That being said, I've never understood why the route going between lake of the isles and lake calhoun, and then through uptown, didn't get more attention. Uptown is an iconic, high-density neighborhood, and an easy connection from its restaurants/nightlife to places like the stadiums, theaters, and restaurants/bars downtown would be welcome. Plus, it would link 2 areas (downtown and uptown) that are notoriously hard/expensive to park in. It seems that there would be far more potential riders hoping on in uptown than there will be in the kenwood area.

My understanding is that this route got downgraded because many uptown residents already use transit (buses), and that thus the number of "new" transit riders isn't as high. Apparently it's more desirable to get a suburbanite from a car to train, than it is to get an urban bus rider onto a train. there is some reason for that, but it ignores the fact that transit thrives when it links high-density areas that people want to go to-- like uptown and downtown.

Uptown

An Uptown alignment isn't viable for several reasons.

- The ridership is not significantly higher
- It costs $150 million more than even tunnels in Kenilworth
- It would be hugely disruptive to the Greenway and Nicollet Ave (no on-street parking, for example)
- It would impact more historic properties
- Trip times would be longer

It's not that "new" transit riders is the benchmark. It's the fact that because the existing bus network in Uptown has relatively high frequency and convenient stop locations, people would probably prefer to take the bus over rail, thus an Uptown LRT doesn't generate the *total* ridership one would expect. The LRT would simply duplicate existing service. That doesn't seem like a wise investment to me.

Let's look at a few scenarios. Let's say you live in Uptown and want to go to one of the theaters downtown. A person might prefer a bus for any number of reasons. The 6 drops you off right at your destination while a Nicollet Mall LRT forces you to walk possibly several blocks. The 6 probably stops closer to your home or apartment. The transit travel time is probably comparable since the LRT will have to obey traffic lights on Nicollet. Add in walking time and the Uptown LRT is probably a loser.

On the other hand, taking LRT to Nicollet Mall from Uptown probably would be faster than the 17, but there is still the matter of stop spacing and needing to walk a bit to get to the LRT. It's probably a wash. It's questionable whether the LRT would be faster than a Midtown Greenway rail transit option with a transfer to a Nicollet streetcar or bus.

If you're traveling on a bus from south of Uptown heading downtown, would you transfer to the LRT to make the last leg of your trip? Probably not, you'd just stay on the bus.

Let's say you're heading from one of the southwest suburbs to Uptown for a night out. Would it really impact your experience to transfer from Southwest LRT toMidtown Greenway rail transit to get to Uptown? Probably not.

So from a ridership standpoint, I don't think it makes sense to spend an additional $150 million to improve the experience for someone who today takes the 17 from Uptown to Nicollet Mall.

From a coverage standpoint, with a Kenilworth SWLRT and a Midtown Greenway rail transit line, we would serve transit-reliant riders in Near North Minneapolis as well as those east of Nicollet. An Uptown alignment for SWLRT would do neither. From an equity perspective it's no contest. Kenilworth SWLRT + Midtown Greenway rail wins hands down.

I'd strongly disagree with

I'd strongly disagree with your assertion that people would rather take the bus, vs the rail. I lived in uptown for a year, after a few attempts I gave up on the buses. Too often off schedule, tied up in traffic, and hard to decipher the routs. Contrast that to the light rail, which I take regularly. Trains arrive within a minute of scheduled, regardless of traffic/weather. Easy to read maps available at stations, with estimated times. More space, which in a high-density area like uptown is key. I vote with my feet- dozens of rail trips, almost none on buses. I suspect I'm not alone.

Visitors to the city (we do get them) also are for more likely to use a rail system, vs buses-- for the same reasons that bus routes are hard to decipher for a new arrival, there often aren't maps at bus stops, and the whole getting-stuck-in-traffic issue.

As to the horror of a rail line making you walk several blocks-- many of us view this as a good thing. There is a reason Europeans are far thinner, on average, than we are: they walk. A train that reliably gets me to within a 1/2 mile of my destination at a set time is far preferable than a bus that drops me off at the doorstep, after it negotiates the traffic, the snow (today's few inches had buses running 40 min late, according to the strib headline. A few inches is pretty common-- not sure people want to be 40 minutes late with every minor snowfall), and the unpredictable streets.

Oh well. I suspect that we are too far along to change this, but it's too bad-- the cities that I love to visit are those that have convenient transit going to the areas of interest. Trains are easy and convenient, buses are not. It's a missed opportunity.

dedicated ROW would be huge along this line

This doesn't make sense to me either. Along existing transit routes is precisely where LRT lines should be built. That's where all the density already exists, and where transit need is demonstrably highest. I think you'd have to look far and wide to find anyone in Uptown that would prefer the (problematic) #6 bus to a LRT ride from Lake and Hennepin into downtown.

parkiing on LRT route

Parking on Hennepin, Lyndale and Nicollect between Lake St. and Downtown is already at a premium.On street parking would be almost elininated if the LRT went down one of those streets.

I some areas the Central corridor LRT eliminated 70% of on street parking.Think about no parkiing on one side of the street and parking on only 50% of the other side of the street Many mom & pop stores do not have off street parking. They would be out of business after the LRT eliminated 70% of on street parking.

The bus stops ever 2 blocks. The LRT would stop a Lake St. and Franklin only. No stops between them. For many under 40 the walk to either Franklin or Lake would no be an issue. For a senior citizen with bad knees and bad back the extra blocks would be nearly impossible.

When its raining hard in the summer or 20 below zero in the winter, very few people enjoy walking 5-8 blocks to the LRT ( assume people don't live on the same street as the LRT).

City people are excited about the LRT. Suburban people are not.

Suburban people outside th 494/696 loop prefer express buses to LRT. That is why there are express buses on Cedar Ave. & I-35 and no LRT. Notice the "Opt Out" buses than only serve suburbs outside the 494/695 loop ( Plymouth Metro Link with stops inside the loop is an exception)

Opt out bus companies include MN Valley (south of the MN River), SW Transit, Plymouth Metro Link, Maple Grove Transit etc. I. E. any bus not painted red.

In suburban buses everyone or almost everyone sits even during rush hour. On City buses 1/2 stand.

Sorry but the ridership thing still doesn't make any sense

I know this conversation has been repeated some and I'd prefer to figure out how to move on from this point, but I really think the ridership logic is so circuitious. If busses are better, then why not establish a bus route that stops in the middle of nowhere like Van White? Because they're not, and nobody would want that.

The entire logic of the argument is something like, let's run the train through the woods... because there will be more new riders... because there's no busses there... because nobody lives there... so they can be "new" if any happen to crawl out of their Lake of the Isles mansions. And we'll rebrand Royalston as "North Minneapolis" so we can get that hip we're-helping-out-North cred too (while we run the Bottineau line to bypass North, too, of course).

Also who could possibly care about $150M when it's on top of a $1.5B+ project. How can you justify an inferior route for a 10% savings?

North

It is extremely insulting to say that no one lives near Van White, Penn or Royalston. The people who live there would disagree with you. There'sf open land there at the moment and that is prime redevelopment opportunity. But people do live in Bryn Mawr and Harrison.

And Royalston is, in fact, in North Minneapolis. A station doesn't have to be physically in North Minneapolis to serve North Minneapolis residents.

Bottineau is just as complicated as Southwest. It's not a slam dunk to run it down Broadway/Penn. I would have preferred an alignment all the way down Broadway to avoid the problems on Penn but that ship sailed long ago.

Not walkable

An urban design and arts group recently produced a map showing the stops and shading the areas where people were within a ten-minute walk of each stop. The number of people in walking distance of those stops ranged from a handful to literally zero. Royalston may be in North Minneapolis as a manner of technicality, but a station there is not meaningful to the vast, vast majority of residents.

Transfers

Royalston is a major bus transfer point for North Minneapolis residents TODAY. It serves North Minneapolis TODAY.

People don't have to live within a 10 minute walk to use LRT. The Met Council's own reports show that many users of Hiawatha LRT arrive by bus.

Insulting?

Is there even a single person living within a quarter mile of Van White? It's surrounded by parks, the freeway, the impound lot and what appear to be largely disused industrial buildings. If there's anyone within that radius, they aren't in it by much. That's pretty literally "no one" living near it.

Royalston has nearby residents of Mary's Place and the Salvation Army and Catholic Charities shelters, which I guess is something, but it's not too far off from literally no one living near it.

But yes, Royalston is, barely, in North Minneapolis.

1/4 mile?

Why the arbitrary 1/4 mile limit?

I can assure you that people living in Harrison consider themselves to be near the Van White station area. It is the centerpiece of their redevelopment plan for the neighborhood.

Not everyone needs to walk to LRT to use it.

So that's a yes then?

1/4 mile because that seemed like a fair estimate of the area around the station in which no people live.

It's great that there are plans to center redevelopment around the station. That's one ugly part of town that would be great to see improved. But that doesn't mean you need to be "insulted" by something that is objectively true.

And yes, not everyone needs to walk to LRT, but it's certainly nice if some people can.

There is a simple solution

There is a simple solution that works for Kenwood, St. Louis Park, TC&W railroad, taxpayers, and more transit riders... Route it through Uptown.

Instead of paying for expensive and intrusive mitigation in the Kenilworth corridor AND Midtown Streetcar (which will be near-LRT spec) AND Nicollet Streetcar (a public art project which renderings show will be blocked by a Toyota Matrix due to shared right of way) AND a $5 million per block redo of Nicollet Mall... we could simply build LRT the right way. Higher transit quality at the same or lower cost. A more progressive outcome.

Too bad county elected officials and Met Council apologists are stuck in the 90s and view SWLRT as a commuter line for Eden Prairie and a subsidy for Bassett Creek developers (the urban equivalent of a new freeway interchange). That's not progressive, nor is a sound financial investment. They're too stubborn to admit to their past LPA mistake, so we're stuck pretending the simple solution doesn't exist.

LRT options

What if the Met Council bought TC&W and ran the light rail on those tracks? That would save the expense of building a whole new rail line, tunnels, berms, and whatnot. That route would be very close to the proposed route and be expandable out as far as Chaska.

Minneapolis Position

Marlys, you've mischaracterized Minneapolis' position. If the freight rail were moved Minneapolis would have no problem with an at-grade LRT. The tunnel were proposed as a mitigation measure for keeping the freight in Kenilworth. While some vocal residents are adamantly opposed, the city hasn't yet taken a formal position on the matter. That will come with the municipal consent process.

Minneapolis would be crazy to declare that $160 million of mitigation isn't enough. Minneapolis would have a hard time getting future transit funding from the legislature.

Just thinking

The proposed stations are:
Royalston (???)
Van White (???)
Penn (Penn bus lines)
21st Street (Hidden Beach, nice houses)
West Lake

How much better would this be instead:
12th and Hennepin (MCTC, UST-Minneapolis, the Basilica, theater district, Lunds, Butcher and the Boar, developable parking lot)

Walker/Loring Park (Walker, Loring Park, Sculpture Gardens, La Belle Vie, Blake, St. Mark's Episcopal Cathedral, the 4 bus)

Franklin Avenue (Burch, Liquor Lyle's, Mortimer's, Rudolph's, Hennepin United Methodist Church, Sebastian Joe's, the Wedge Co-op, developable land if we tear down some flyover bridges between Hennepin and Lyndale, the 2 bus)

Uptown Station (Calhoun Square, YWCA, Mosaic, Planned Parenthood, Rainbow Foods, the Midtown Greenway, Uptown Theater, Lagoon Theater, the Walker library, a billion apartment buildings, all the buses)

West Lake

I thought...

that one of the big selling points of this boondoggle was to provide transportation between North Minneapolis and EP, connecting the poor urban dwellers of Minneapolis with the jobs in EP. These routes through Uptown don't appear to do that to me. Not that I think the original idea had much merit or cost-benefit sense.

??? ??

Why all the ???. It's quite apparent that people making judgments about this line don't have all the context to do so.

Royalston, TODAY, is a major bus transfer point for North Minneapolis. A Royalston LRT station would seemlessly integrate into that, providing connections to the southwest suburbs. There's also a lot of room for development around the station.

Van White has a major development proposal on the table today, Minneapolis is getting ready to sell off parts of the impound lot for follow-on development and the neighborhoods in the area have put together the incredible Bassett Creek Valley Master Plan. We just built a great new bridge there so the station builds on and enhances connectivity investments we've already made.

Royalston, Van White and Penn will be served by bus lines, with Penn likely getting direct service from an arterial BRT/enhanced bus line. Penn also has some development opportunity though it is more challenging than Van White or Royalston.

There is no way to reasonably take transit from North Minneapolis to the southwest suburbs today. SWLRT will open up an entirely new area of opportunity for some of those who need it the most.

The 21st St. station is gone, unfortunately. It could have made a nice connection to the 2.

West Lake exists in all scenarios and will be one of the busiest stations on the line.

See above from my explanation of why Uptown isn't the slam dunk some people think it is. We don't need LRT in Uptown given the buses, Midtown Corridor rail transit and a Nicollet streetcar. We'll serve many more areas of the city with the Kenilworth alignment for SWLRT.

Logic

David, thanks for the comments on the numerous light rail articles. I appreciate that you're keeping up on the issues and have data to back up your positions. Your measured position is a breath of fresh air, especially when in contrast to the people who waltz in at the 11th hour proclaiming that they've got all the answers because they once drove through Uptown.

Keep up the good work.

TC&W broader transit potential

Wegner's reinvestment in TCW for improved freight capacity also offers the potential for dual-use of the line for regional passenger rail - not "heavy" rail like Northstar but lighter-weight single car service. The tracks go well beyond Chaska... Norwood Young America & Glencoe are in range of morning/evening commuter service, and even Granite Falls could imagine a daily run. Sidings wouldn't have to be long and probably already exist, as most of the towns along 212 were built around their respective railroad stations. Service could terminate at the Eden Prairie station for connections to Green LIne / express bus to the airport / other regional bus connections. The biggest issue, once the track has been updated, is scheduling passenger runs around freight hauls.

This won't be helpful

Connecting the area’s major airport with downtown is a no-brainer, so light rail from MSP to downtown Minneapolis makes sense, no matter whose neighborhood it runs through. Connecting the state’s two largest cities – and the state capitol – also strikes me as a transit no-brainer.

Less clear to me is why my tax dollars should build a light rail line from Minnetonka, Eden Prairie, and the area around the city’s “chain of lakes” to downtown. In effect, the taxpayers of north Minneapolis are being asked to finance with their tax money an additional amenity for already amenity-laden affluent commuters to the southwest of downtown. In return, those taxpayers get very little. The proposed Bottineau line heads northwest, is obviously intended for Maple Grove, yet another affluent ‘burb, and – surprise – the proposed route basically goes *around* what locals refer to as “north” Minneapolis instead of *through* it.

“North” Minneapolis appears to get nothing beyond an additional bus route or two, while “Nordeast,” if it’s lucky, might get a streetcar line on Central Avenue. To phrase it as politely as I can, these are not equivalent public investments. The southwest metro is getting a new, taxpayer-provided Mercedes, while the city's north side is getting a rusted-out, taxpayer-provided Chevy Vega.

Corrections

Ray, I'm kind of surprised at the inaccuracies here.

Both Southwest and Bottineau will serve North Minneapolis, though I agree it serves Near North better than, say, the area around Broadway. Harrison is smack dab in the middle of LRT Central. There is a streetcar proposal for Broadway and I believe it's set to go right after Nicollet/Central. It ought to be first in my book.

Bottineau isn't going anywhere near Maple Grove. Maple Grove didn't want it. It's going to the Target campus in Brooklyn Park. I can certainly understand the route through Wirth Park given the number of houses that would have been taken along Penn. A route all the way down Broadway would have been best but that was eliminated long ago.

As for Southwest, much of that suburban ridership is in fact composed of immigrants and lower-income folk. Suburban demographics are changing rapidly. There have been immigrant communities in Hopkins and St. Louis park even since I was a kid. Eden Prairie has a large Somali population. Only the CIDNA folks believe it's a commuter train for wealthy white people. Actually, I don't think they believe it but they certainly want others to believe it.

The best route is to not

The best route is to not build it.

Elaborate?

Care to enlighten us with some reasons why not to build it? Otherwise this is about as pointless a comment as could possibly exist. The MinnPost comment section is not Twitter.

Two SW LRT Meetings Last Week

The press coverage of last week's two Metro Council public input listening sessions in Kenwood neighborhood and SLP has been curiously non-existent. I was present at the one in Mpls at a table discussing Freight rail issues. We had residents from both SLP and Mpls. The discussion at our table and throughout the packed Kenwood Park gym was respectful and productive of understanding of the issues and of new ideas. We learned that the main under-discussed stumbling block is the federal Surface Transportation Board (old ICC) which has near dictatorial power over state and local jurisdictions when it comes to railroads, and whose main mission is to promote railroading. (Analogous to FAA at MSP re noise.)

Our table heaved a sigh of relief when we hit on the blindingly simple option of leaving the TC&W RR and the bide/pedestrian trails right where they are. This saves hundreds of millions of dollars in tunneling costs and potential lake water problems and lost trees. The Kenilworth residents preferred the 4 or 5 freight trains per day to 200+ LRT runs, especially since the neighborhood will get no LRT service since the 21st Street station has been eliminated due to light ridership projections. The SWLRT could run in the BNSF corridor north of Cedar Lake and then either south on France Ave to West Lake Station OR on the north-south RR line west of Hwy 100 (or in 100's median) to Beltline or Wooddale Stations. A new station might be possible in SLP's new commercial area at 100 and Cedar Lake Road or at Minnetonka Blvd.

A second alternative idea was to move the bike and pedestrian trails to Burnham Road and St. Louis Avenue between the Burnham Bridge over the rail corridor and Lake Street to make room for both freight and LRT in the RR corridor. This route is only a half block west and just as scenic as the current bike and pedestrian routes. It is on fairly low traffic streets or could be on boulevards.

The Met Council, SLP, Mpls and neighborhood groups are too wedded to their preliminary plans from years ago. Just because Hennepin County bought the Kenilworth tracks from Chicago Northwestern RR decades ago for LRT doesn't mean we must use that route today.

Bike Route

Unfortunately I missed the meeting last week as I had another meeting to go to. So much fun to be had, so little time.

Unlike some of the other people on this board, I do have several dogs in this fight. I'm just a few blocks from where they want to run the freight through in St. Louis Park and I'm just a mile from one of the proposed stations. If and when it goes in, I'll be riding this bad boy into work downtown.

Moving the bike route a block off of the existing trail seems like a no brainer to me, although David Greene can shed some light on that subject that may change perspectives. Unfortunately that doesn't seem to be the only holdup though. The Minneapolis residents object to not just the trail relocation, but more importantly they don't want to have the LRT trains as well as the freight trains on the line. That seems to me to be the bigger issue. Personally, it doesn't seem like the freight will add much to the mix if they're already willing to accept the LRT cars. That's like complaining about the faucet dripping when your basement is flooded.

Running the trains down hwy 100 is a non-starter as there isn't a median in which to situate the trains. It doesn't exist. That would mean moving the northbound or southbound lanes over, which means taking out several miles worth of houses, churches, and businesses. That's a lot more than the couple of dozen structures they need to bulldoze with the current route.

The Dan Patch line (the north/south line west of hwy 100) is also unworkable. That's the one they want to run the freight on, but is too unsafe for the trains and requires the 24' berms, tearing out businesses and the high school football field, and would run at rooftop level for many houses. Running LRT through there would be worse than the freight trains.

I'm not sure where you would put a station at Cedar Lake Road or Minnetonka Blvd. Those are both highly developed areas with no open land, so you would need to take out businesses and homes to make it work.

I'm sorry to say, but your planning group didn't hit any home runs in their working session.

Correct

I agree with all of this. I don't know of any technical issues to moving the bike trail out of Kenilworth but I'm sure bike groups wouldn't like it. The idea of shifting the bike trail west to St. Louis Ave. was brought to the attention of planners a few months ago. I don't know if they've seriously considered it.

The freight is indeed the sticking point.

I don't see how going down France Ave. would work. That's a highly residential area with little space for LRT. I'd guess that right-of-way would have to be widened significantly.

Hwy 100 and Dan Patch

Admittedly there will probably be problems cropping up with other ideas also. Solving this puzzle will be a matter of finding the least problematic option.

The retired MNDOT person at our table told us that MNDOT has the relevant section of Hwy 100 on their radar for rebuilding/widening as they have done to the rest of 100, so we know this will happen as soon as they can work out the plans and funding. This may be an opportunity for LRT in the median also. It could be the least number of total property purchases and the fewest number of people upset because it would serve both purposes in one right of way as in Chicago.

He also said the Dan Patch north/south RR line is only lightly used. LRT does not require the berms, etc. that heavy freight RR needs and is not under the jurisdiction of the federal Surface Transportation Board--only the existing RR service is.

Hwy 100

Without a detailed study, I doubt hwy 100 is a viable option. While they are indeed widening it, that's just to add a lane in either direction. In order to fit light rail in there, there'll need to take some houses and businesses. Would you propose losing the synagog and Benilde school on the east side or the car dealership on the west side? Either one would be expensive to take out.

The rebuild is also slated to start this year, so if LRT wants to get on board (pardon the pun) they need to get their plan together about two years ago.

On to the Dan Patch line. It was abandoned and unmaintained until the TC&W came along. They're not a big company and have put minimal effort into maintaining the line, so it would have to be completely rebuilt to accommodate light rail. The line also runs on a berm through dense neighborhoods of post war bungalows with the trains at roof height. Currently the trains are limited to 10 MPH because the track is in such poor shape.

So yes, there is a line there, but it will require a complete rework to allow for increased and higher speed traffic. All they would get out of the deal is the right of way and I'm not sure even that has enough room. I assume light rail needs more space than just the tracks itself as there are overhead lines and signaling equipment to put in place. If they need to take houses to accommodate that, then suddenly you're looking at hundreds of houses.

Sorry to throw so much cold water on your ideas. I live just a few blocks from the Dan Patch line, drive Minnetonka Blvd and Hwy 100 on a daily basis, and I frequently bike the Cedar Lake trail. So I'm very familiar with that piece of the light rail puzzle.

Is this a press release for Railroad

this article sounds like a press release written by the railroad. What do other people say about the railroad's arguments? what are the other points of view?

Also, what about just buying some of the homes? (either in SLP or MPLS) That may be the lowest cost option.

Hennepin

I've never figured out why a Hennepin Ave route was thrown out so early. How hard would it be to have the route turn south after crossing under I-94, running along side the sculpture garden, and following Hennepin to the Greenway? Hennepin has more ROW available than Nicollet, although likely still requiring losing a traffic lane in each direction.
As a bonus, we could probably eliminate the mini freeway part of Hennepin just south of the tunnel

Data to support an assumption?

Somwhere several yards up in this discussion is a long explanation by David of why the thousands of people living in or near Uptown (soon to be yet more, in big apartment complexes still going up along the former rail trench) don't need to use the SW rail because they easily can take buses downtown.

Are there data to show that downtown Minneapolis is where most of these people work? Maybe, but perhaps the Met Council oughta do a little research to find out (I doubt it will because its mind seems to be made up, with our perhaps without facts). I suspect that more than a handful of the young folks moving in by the hundreds have good, even professional employment in technical and engineering companies, and a great many of those -- I would guess the majority -- are in suburbs as far out as Eden Prairie and even Chanhassan. Uptown people aren't gonna ride buses that far, but they'd sure take the train.

One of the problems with exiting mass transit in MSP has been its structure around the idea that people work downtown. Yes, tens of thousands do, and stringing out lines that go from point to point avoiding downtown may be financially impossible. But going from, say, southwest Minneapolis to places such as New Hope, Fridley or Plymouth -can be a long, time-burning haul.

Planning

Come on, do you REALLY think the 30 years we spent studying this line was done completely without facts or engineering exploration? Give planners a little bit of credit.

Ridership models demonstrated exactly the effects I described above. It is up to the skeptics to prove those models wrong. The results make perfect sense to me. I live in the area and am very familiar with the existing transit options.

As for Uptown-EP trips, I also covered that above. The Midtown Corridor rail line will make that connection easy peasy.

SWLRT

The major problem I see with the SWLRT Plan is twofold:
1) Functions and service goals are not prioritized correctly.
2) There's a sad lack of open mindedness to creative solutions.

1) The original SW LRT Line ended at Shady Oak Rd. at the west edge of Hopkins. The extension to Eden Prairie was added to gain political support, but it does not have the ridership potential to justify the significant cost. Consider please, that most commuters to jobs and schools in Minnetonka, Eden Prairie and Chanhassen would still need to reach their destinations via bus shuttles from an LRT Station. Most jobs and schools are too scattered apart to be walking distance from a station. Consider please, that SW Transit operates direct express buses for the commuters that reside in the SW suburbs and that the LRT line would be much slower than those buses. SW Transit has wisely not committed to move this majority of their customers over to the trains. The Eden Prairie LRT extension will not likely replace the fast SW commuter buses!
Slightly longer shuttle bus routes connecting Hopkins to jobs and schools in Minnetonka, Eden Prairie and Chanhassen would be a cost-effective and reliable way to make buses and LRT work together. This point needs to be raised now.
2) Creative ideas to consider: a) End the line at Shady Oak Road and defer any extension until later. Take the large cost saved by this and re-route the SW LRT line via Uptown that follows a subway under Girard and Hennepin avenues between Uptown and the existing proposed line at a point just north of Dunwoody Institute. Forget Nicollet Avenue! Surface station on line would be built on line just west of Hennepin with direct connections to the existing Uptown Station. A subway station would be built between 22nd and 24th streets and under the service road west of Hennepin Ave. between Douglas Ave and the Walker Art Center. The subway line would swing west of the Walker where the old Gutherie Theatre was, continue under the Parade and the parking lot west of Dunwoody Institute. The existing planned line up to 5th St. would complete the rapid route to downtown.

The subway would be almost 2 miles long and cost maybe $200 MILLION, but that is about what would be saved by deferring the less productive extension beyond Hopkins.
No more freight rail issues. Commuter service to the SW suburbs for all of Minneapolis, including Uptown. Reliable, rapid transit between Uptown - Downtown - U of M. (Anyone who rides Route 6 bus on Hennepin Ave. appreciates the service but knows how delay-prone Hennepin Ave. is.)

Tunnels

The tunnel you describe is completely unrealistic. $200 million? For a subway? Not only do you grossly underestimate the cost (the SWLRT engineers have gone over tunnel costs repeatedly) you also ignore the fact that cost isn't the only factor. Even if we *could* afford a tunnel like you describe (and we can't), we still have to prove to the feds that it's cost-efficient. That's a high bar to clear, especially when we've got a route that's already acceptable to FTA.

If EP was such a loser the feds wouldn't have approved it. Multiple people and agencies have looked at this line and they all agree it works. It's incredibly unlikely that someone not deeply involved with the project is going to propose a fundamentally new idea that hasn't been explored already and is feasible.

Think about this. Your tunnel is about 1.5 miles long. New York's 8.5 mile 2nd Ave. subway, under planning and construction since 1929, will cost $17 BILLION. Straightforward paper-napkin math indicates your tunnel in New York would cost about $3 billion. Now we're not New York but construction would have to cost over ten times less here to approach your $200 million number. Even construction costs being five times less is a stretch.

Are you not a transit planner?

John,

Have you proposed this routing to your employer? Do you have any contacts at the SW project office? So far, the steadfast refusal to take another look at an urban alignment(s) seems as much driven by project staff as by politicians. If staff at the project office were open to studying it, that would be the first step to broader acceptance. It is what the people want, after all. Your plan may be either brilliant or unfeasible, but unless you propose it to your employer and run it up the flagpole, how will we ever know? What do you have to lose?

How much does routing SW

How much does routing SW through Uptown actually slow down transit times? If it's a matter of a few minutes, seems like a small delay for a much more dynamic route. SW suburbanites are going to complain about the commute in the morning, but I suspect plenty of them would use the LRT to get to Uptown for entertainment in the evening. It seems clear Metro Transit is envisioning SW as primarily a commuter line and selected Kenilworth Corridor for expediency sake. Uptown seems to have much more potential to me because it's already much denser than the chain of lakes area. It's bizarre to me that we would worry about stepping on the toes of the 6 bus route. A busy bus route shows there's demand. It's not an excuse to pass over the neighborhood for LRT.

Uptown

Uptown is not being passed over. It's going to get LRT in the Midtown Greenway from the West Lake station to Hiawatha. That line will serve suburbanites wanting to get to Uptown. Uptown will also get improved bus service to downtown.

Uptown was looked at for SWLRT. Multiple times. Multiple agencies concluded it wasn't worth the added cost. We can all guess as much as we want but that's all we're doing - guessing. The people with the data would seem to have the stronger case.

There are multiple reasons to prefer Kenilworth. Travel time is only one of them.

- It costs less.

- It serves Near North Minneapolis, which currently has NO such transit access to the southwest suburbs.

- It allows the Midtown LRT to exist, which will serve transit-reliant communities east of Nicollet that wouldn't be helped but an Uptown SWLRT.

- It has essentially the same ridership projections as the Uptown route.

- It spurs redevelopment of Linden Yards and the impound lot. Ryan already has a well-advanced proposal and the city is set to start selling off pieces of the impound lot.

- It preserves parking on Nicollet

- It avoids serious disruption of the Greenway and Nicollet Ave.

- It avoids impacts to a number of historic properties.

I disagree with most of those points.

If you are saying the current alignment serves Uptown with the Midtown Transitway, it seems you should include that $200+ million the project will cost in the SW price tag pushing it ever closer to the 1.8 billion dollar price tag that an Uptown alignment had in early estimates. An Uptown alignment would serve uptown without necessitating another huge project that would also disrupt the Greenway significantly during the time it is under the construction. It's hard to take Metro Transit's investigation of the Uptown alignment seriously when it seems they've mostly buried information on that route and spent no effort on engineering solutions on that route while doing any manner of gymnastics to keep the Kenilworth alignment alive. The route chosen for Uptown seemed purposefully clumsy with the Nicollet interchange at the Greenway. Seems like there should be a more elegant solution.

-It's beyond dubious that the Kenilworth alignment could match the ridership of one through uptown. I think is the most effective illustration of the higher potential of the uptown route is the density map on this post: http://www.thetransportpolitic.com/2009/08/11/southwest-minneapolis-tran.... The density on the uptown route blows the Kenilworth corridor out of the water, and it has room to grow, whereas much of the cedar lake of the isles neighborhood are mansions unlikely to be redeveloped.

-You ask for blind faith in the engineers out of respect for their profession, but all it takes is common sense to see that the much denser route with thousands more people in walking distance of the line would have better ridership and many more attractions on the route without need of a transfer. Plus, Metro Transit and the city of Minneapolis have made plenty of mistakes in the past (Northstar!).

-Making a connection isn't a dealbreaker, but it does slow down overall transit times especially if the wait time between trains is significant. That means fewer riders.

- We could still continue the midtown transitway to Hiawatha with an uptown route, especially if we somehow made a Hennepin route work.

-The Penn Station connecting SWLRT to Near North requires going up a sizable pedestrian ramp and then catching a bus or walking across the no man's land at the 394 overpass. This isn't going to be welcoming transfer and it's definitely not going to spur lots of foot traffic in that neighborhood.

-We have to trust that the Bassett Creek plan will be successful and not go the route of Block E or the whatever plan they made to spur Metrodome development so that Van White Station stops somewhere worth going rather than terminate at City Impound Lot (although we could get a lot of onetime crap I got towed LRT riders). Uptown is already filled with established destinations.

-Royalston is still a station in the uptown alignment.

-To be frank, I would argue we should welcome loss of parking if it gives us a world class light rail route. The loss of drive up business would more than be made up for by walk-in traffic. (Although I know parking loss is typically problematic politically.)

In a way

It boils down to "we could build stuff around that station" vs. "there's already stuff that could be served by transit."

I think both are worthwhile objectives, BUT, as you say, it's really hard to see how the first credible projects to more ridership. I'd suspect you have to make really rosy assumptions about how successful that redevelopment will be.

Facts

The Uptown studies are not "buried." They're right there in the DEIS for all to see. I can easily see how an Uptown alignment wouldn't generate the ridership one might expect. The buses aren't going to go away and for many people those will provide more convenient trips. I have the data to back up these findings. Those in favor of the Uptown plan not only don't have data, they are guessing that the actual data we do have, data that has been scrutinized by multiple agencies at the local and national levels, is completely wrong. If that is true, where is the data that shows it?

Royalston is NOT part of the Uptown alignment. That was a fantasy route. The Uptown alignment goes down Nicollet. Not only does it completely miss North, it also doesn't serve the transit-dependent populations east of Nicollet that a Midtown corridor would.

You always seem to do this David

You assume the only transportation issue is back and forth from downtown to uptown. That's may not even be the main issue. This is supposed to be the Southwest Corridor. You're assuming that the only destination anyone between St. Louis Park and Chaska will have in mind is downtown. I think a lot of people are going to want to get directly to Uptown. This route makes everyone go downtown first and them backtrack somehow to get to Uptown.

Incorrect

The Midtown Corridor LRT will shuttle people from the West Lake station right to the Uptown transit station. We don't need SWLRT through Uptown to do that. No one has to go downtown first.

Yes because a one seat

Yes because a one seat commute to downtown for suburbanites is worth an inconvenient transfer for a dense urban area with existing proven ridership. In so sick of this garbage excuse. The midtown line is far from a sure bet so designing a line and pretending like it'll get built and be just as good somehow excuses building transit around density instead of through it.

Midtown

Have you been to the Midtown Corridor meetings? I have. The numbers on the line are so good that it's virtually guaranteed to be built. They're so good we'll probably do the rail line AND enhanced bus on Lake St. That could not happen with an Uptown alignment for SWLRT.

People transfer all the time. You can hardly get anywhere in New York without a transfer. It's really not the huge burden you make it out to be.

No I can't attend the

No I can't attend the meetings because they're conveniently scheduled while I'm on a train commuting back from work. But I do read the notes that they post after meetings which include the comments people leave and there's a lot of push-back from people who don't want to make any change to the bike trails or who'd rather have grass than transit. Then again transit planners in this city have been known to completely ignore community input when they've already made their decision on something (like, say, the SWLRT alignment) so maybe the midtown trench will get a train.

And we're not New York. I really don't see the logic in making transit for people who live in denser areas *more* difficult to use just to benefit suburban commuters and save maybe five minutes on their trip. This sends the message that they value those suburban commuters more than people who live in the city and take transit for things besides going to work. If they really want to focus so much on suburban-to-downtown commuters they need to build out a commuter rail system instead of trying to build LRT that acts like a commuter rail line.

Oh, and one more related note: We really need zoned pricing. It makes zero sense that I pay the same or very slightly less to go a couple miles across town as someone pays to ride an express bus 10-20 miles into town. We should really stop excessively subsidizing suburban transit, there's already plenty spent on rebuilding highways for them every year.

Community Input

So then I suppose the county and Met Council have also ignored the many comments from people who are in favor of the current SWLRT plan and the Midtown corridor. Heck, the Midtown Greenway Coalition loves the Midtown corridor and thus the current SWLRT plan.

Be very careful about what you ascribe to "the community."

Transit Tax

Wayne, you raise a good point, namely that we really need a transit tax in order to properly fund light rail and other improvements. The problem we have currently is that funding is a hit or miss proposition with each legislature that comes into session. With dedicated funding in place we can work on the Midtown track as well as others simultaneously without batting an eye.

I know some people are automatically going to say a tax is bad and we can't afford it. After all, this is the state that had to override governor Pawlenty when he vetoed a five cent gasoline tax. But there are other far more conservative areas that have taxed themselves a penny or more to fund their LRT lines, namely Texas and Utah.

If we get people like you behind the effort I think we can easily press the legislature and governor Dayton to get it passed and get a real transit system built around here instead of just a line every ten years or so.

I really wish I knew how to

I really wish I knew how to help with an effort like that. In the past when I've tried to get involved with local groups that support transit they only seemed interested in getting me to donate money. I do evangelize to friends and coworkers whenever I get the chance, though.

My suggestion again

If this route is really going to blow up the deal, scrap the Kenwood corridor and and the line over by lake Calhoun. Make it like Boston's South Station. It would end at Beltline or West Lake and people could take smaller feeder lines to get into the city.

This would less than ideal but it's better than killing the whole project or building a berm across St. Louis Park. The line could always be connected later although it would probably cost more. The issue that staff at the open house had was that the way line is designed now you could could go all the way to downtown St. Paul on the same train. That would be nice but...

I'm also puzzled by the train guys claim that the existing tracks in SLP can't handle trains... trains run on that line right now every day and have done so for decades so I don't why all of the sudden they need put them on top of a berm? How can say a train can't clime the grade when trains have been climbing that grade for decades? I wonder if they're trying to get upgraded tracks so they can expand rather than simply re-route?

Freight

I believe the trains TC&W runs in Kenilworth are longer than the trains currently running on the MN&S through Saint Louis Park.

Councilmember Steve Elkins wrote a good article on why the current tracks in St. Louis Park can't support TC&W. It's physics.

http://www.startribune.com/opinion/commentaries/228099861.html

Trains

The current trains running on the Dan Patch line through St. Louis Park are six cars long and run at about 10 MPH. My understanding is the trains they want route through here are more on the order of 100+ cars long and significantly faster.

Replacing the Kenilworth

Replacing the Kenilworth Trail with a bike/ped facility of comparable quality would certainly cost more than $20m, even without the heated pavement. It would require significant easements on private property, reconstruction of France Ave, at least one bridge, and a retaining wall along the Cedar Lake shoreline. Please either support your assertion otherwise or remove it from the article.

Thank you

Amen. I was going to comment on that but decided to let is slide.

It's an all-too-often case of people not understanding how much infrastructure costs. There's a reason we're tens of billions of dollars behind on our transportation maintenance.

besides...

We already have bike and pedestrian paths on the other side of Cedar Lake?

The berm's a deal breaker.

Well, I don't know why nobody recognized the laws of physics until last summer but no one had ever said anything about this previously. Knocking out 11 businesses and 30 homes while ramming a two story berm through just wasn't part of the deal... ever. I was willing to go along with the re-route under the conditions originally laid out, i.e. more traffic on existing tracks. I thought we'd be mitigating the affects on homes and businesses. This is the opposite of mitigation. Leave the freight traffic where it is, get used to it if you haven't already.

Siding connecting NS with EW

Currently there is a switch on the NS line that is south of the intersection of the NS & EW lines. The switch is to a siding that goes west. There is a second switch on this RR siding. Flip this second switch and back up to the EW line.

The siding is a Y lying on its side. The siding connects to the NS line near Brunswick & 39th (Brunswick & 39th don't intersect but they are the 2 closest NS & EW streets). The siding connects to the EW line where the EW &NS lines intersect. The west end of the siding is west of Lousiana near Minnehaha Creek.

If this siding can handle the difference in elevations of the 2 lines then the engineers should be able to design a switch that can handle the elevation differences of the 2 lines.
Why couldn't part of this siding be used to connect the NS & EW lines?
In this section, the rerouted TC & W might have to slow down to 5-10 mph.
Just because TC& W wants to run its trains a 50 mph. doesn't mean that it can go that fast everywhere. I don't think it goes 50 mph through the Kenilworth corridor currently. I think it is closer to 10 mph.

Why not go further north, then run it east along 394?

I have to agree with the objections by the Kenilworth folks to having both freight and light rail going through that corridor. It's one thing to have freight going through. It's entirely different to have both freight and also ten times as much traffic in the form of light rail commuter lines.

If light rail can't go down the 29th Street Greenway (the most obvious route), then why not
route the whole thing north alongside 100, then east into downtown alongside 394?

The further 'burbs get their traffic, and so does North side Minneapolis.

For myself, I'd rather see the Greenway route, but that one makes too much sense to ever happen.

TC&W Safety

I would like to believe that they actually cared about safety, but this read is interesting http://gearheadgrrrl.com/2013/11/01/union-railroaders-solve-the-kenilwor...