In the emotional debate about what to do about freight trains in planning for the Southwest light rail corridor, it is well to hang on to some basic facts:
1) History. The freight trains currently running through the Kenilworth Trail area are there because Minneapolis agreed to accept them temporarily while a permanent route was found, through St. Louis Park if no other feasible option exists. Whether that years-old agreement is still binding is debated, but all the official actions and statements by Minneapolis have relied on that original understanding.
2) Kenilworth impact. Because the Kenilworth route is not visible from major streets, most people are probably not familiar with it, having only read references to it as “a narrow strip of land between Lake of the Isles and Cedar Lake.” Actually, Kenilworth between Lake St. and Cedar Lake Pkwy. is quite different from the Kenilworth from the parkway north to Penn Av. The southern portion is narrow, squeezing between townhomes on one side and a condo development on the other. The very attractive northern portion is spacious, having years ago housed a railroad switching yard. Two such different areas do not require the same solution. Also, it should be noted that almost none of the route is park land — it was bought by Hennepin County as a transitway — and the route offers only two brief glimpses of Cedar Lake and none of Lake of the Isles. For most of the distance, residential areas on rolling hills separate the route from the lakes.
3) St. Louis Park impact. The most likely St. Louis Park route for added freight traffic is indeed elevated, in part to satisfy safety and efficiency concerns of the railroad company that now operates through Kenilworth. But the proposed elevation and bridges also address two major concerns by St. Louis Park residents — not having freight traffic that separates St. Louis Park High School from its football field, and avoiding grade crossings on major streets with heavy pedestrian traffic.
4) Side effects. In the debate over deep tunnels vs. shallow tunnels as a solution for the Kenilworth, much of the focus is on costs. But folks beyond the immediate area should be aware of another major difference between the two tunnels: Engineers say that only the deep tunnel would require replacing the Lake St. bridge that passes over the route between Lake Calhoun and France Av. That bridge is already lined with stopped traffic during rush hours. Whether replacing the bridge requires complete closure of Lake St., or only temporary by-passes and one-lane traffic, the impact will extend far beyond the immediate neighborhood. Finding the best (or least-bad) solution to the freight problem is difficult enough on a factual basis, so emotional exaggerations and misinformation require some response.
Rodgers Adams follows light rail issues for his monthly newsletter at a condo that is near, but not on, the proposed route.
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