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Met Council, Minneapolis turn to ‘facilitator’ for Southwest LRT solution

Courtesy of the Metropolitan Council
The map above shows the preliminary design for track alignment and stations as approved by the Metropolitan Council in April 2014.

In a joint statement to MinnPost Monday, the Metropolitan Council and the city of Minneapolis confirmed that in order to “address the situation with SWLRT,” they have agreed to use a “facilitator.” They chose Arthur J. Boylan, retired chief magistrate judge for the U.S. District Court.   

In case you don’t recall, the “situation” is this: In early April, the Met Council, over the objections of Minneapolis, voted 14 to 2 to endorse a route for the $1.68 billion Southwest light rail train that would keep freight trains in the Kenilworth Corridor between Cedar Lake and Lake of the Isles and add the light rail line in shallow tunnels. Both Mayor Betsy Hodges and the Minneapolis City Council wanted the freight train to be rerouted to St. Louis Park and/or the LRT to be run through deep tunnels, which would add another $150 million to its cost.  

The next step is municipal consent. All government parties along the line — Minneapolis, St. Louis Park, Hennepin County, the Hennepin County Regional Railroad Authority, Hopkins, Minnetonka and Eden Prairie — must hold public hearings on the plan, take testimony from the public and then vote. The process  may stretch into July. The seven counties are kicking in 40 percent of the cost, and they had  threatened to move to other projects if the issues weren’t resolved by the end of June.

The first hearing, before the HCRRA, was supposed to happen in mid-May but was postponed to May 29. The two-week delay occurred after the Met Council sent Minneapolis a plan for the route that it later said was incorrect. It showed one of the two light-rail tunnels in the Kenilworth corridor built in 13-foot-high berms, which had never previously been included in any public plans. Two weeks passed before the Met Council furnished the correct berm-free plan.  

Boylan stepped down from the bench at the beginning of the year to start his own mediation practice. As an alternative dispute-resolution neutral for the federal court, he worked on settlements involving medical device, copyright and whistle-blower cases. But his biggest claim to fame was his 2011 mediation of the labor dispute between the National Football League and its players. He was assigned the case in April and wrapped it up in July.

It’s not clear at this point what elbows Boylan could twist or carrots he could offer to bring the two sides together. The NFL and the players, after all, had dozens of issues on which both sides could give and take. Perhaps the Met Council could add back the 21st Street station it deleted in Minneapolis. Or maybe it could offer some money to finance the proposed streetcar line. Or maybe it will spend the extra $150 million for deep tunnels in Kenilworth. All that assumes, of course, that the Met Council has and is willing to spend the money.

The task facing Judge Boylan looks like mediation impossible.

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Comments (8)

  1. Submitted by Benjamin Riggs on 05/06/2014 - 03:09 pm.

    That last line.

    *groan* 😉

    Seriously, though, geography is remarkably difficult to mediate.

  2. Submitted by Eric Saathoff on 05/06/2014 - 07:47 pm.


    I’ve thought for a while now that Minneapolis would try to get a streetcar out of this. I read recently that the Metro Council said they would “study” streetcars after long time opposition. This is what I’d do if I were MPLS, too (I’m St. Paul).

    When I stop and think about the end game it would really look great for MPLS, though. They accept a light rail train in their city in exchange for getting a streetcar. In other words, they get everything!

    Maybe if Minneapolis can get a streetcar out of this, St. Paul will, too!

  3. Submitted by Neal Gendler on 05/06/2014 - 07:57 pm.

    Consider an alternative

    Let’s see:

    1. Minneapolis doesn’t want a commuter line next to a freight-rail line smashing 220 trains a day through and disturbing a nice recreational trail and neighborhood. Makes sense to me.

    2. St. Louis park doesn’t want the rail line moved and put atop two-story berms. Makes sense to me.

    3. Minneapolis wants a streetcar line down Nicollet Avenue. Makes sense to me.

    Why not combine 1, 2 and 3 and run the commuter line east and west on the Midtown Greenway (looks like plenty of room even with the bike trail), turning it toward downtown along Nicollet Avenue — maybe with two or three brief stops on Nicollet so the line also could serve as a streetcar?

    Maybe the turn could be designed into the space now occupied by K Mart.

    The only people I can see being made unhappy by that would be Nicollet Avenue business people, but a streetcar probably would take away their out-front parking anyway (if there even is any now).

  4. Submitted by Michael Johnson on 05/07/2014 - 03:30 am.

    21st St. station?

    No. Please don’t suggest adding back the 21st St. station as a good thing that would sweeten the deal! Taking that station out of the proposal is one of the only things that makes it more palatable as far as I am concerned. And a deep tunnel?!! Was this really an and/or? That’s news to me. The well at hidden beach is only 75 feet. I don’t see how a deep tunnel could NOT affect groundwater in the area. A shallow tunnel has a chance of scraping by as far as I know, but I expect that even that will have an adverse impact on groundwater in this area (and of course, all those connected by the underground flows) in the future.

    • Submitted by David Greene on 05/07/2014 - 11:49 am.

      21st. is Important

      I have hbeen told by multiple people and organizations that the 21st. St. station is something that would really help people in South Minneapolis. Connecting the #2 bus to it would open up the southwest jobs corridor to folks in South Minneapolis, just as SWLRT opens up the corridor to North Minneapolis.

      So yes, the 21st. St. station would be a big win for the city. It means eliminating the north tunnel but we don’t need the north tunnel. There’s plenty of room to run at grade there.

      • Submitted by Michael Johnson on 05/08/2014 - 07:02 pm.

        It’s only a win if that’s what people want.

        A shallow tunnel was proposed because of the objections to co-location, a.k.a. running a 2nd train at grade level. Framing the installation of an unwanted station as a “win for the city” is a distortion of the issues involved. The loss of a treasured greenspace used by hundreds of thousands every year to a train that will mostly benefit commuters into the city, not out of, will be a loss felt for generations. A “win for the city” would have been if freight rail was either relocated or the existing line re-purposed as light rail. Anything else at this point is at best a compromise and construing an at-grade station at 21st as a “win” is a facile attempt at propaganda.

        • Submitted by David Greene on 05/12/2014 - 02:36 pm.

          That’s from *your* perspective

          From your perspective, a 21st St. station is an insult. To the large, large majority of the rest of the city, it’s a win.

          Providing access to the greenspace you care about is a good thing, right?

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