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Southwest LRT construction is about to get real. What that could mean for you

SWLRT Project Director Jim Alexander
MinnPost photo by Jessica Lee
SWLRT Project Director Jim Alexander leading members of the press on a tour of the Southwest LRT route earlier this week.

For those who live, work or use any of the amenities along the route of Southwest LRT, the time has come: construction of the massive project could affect you soon. This week, the Metropolitan Council announced the locations for the first part of the work on the 14.5-mile extension of the Green Line.

Here’s the latest on Southwest LRT and what we know now about the construction schedule for the Minneapolis-to-Eden Prairie route, a $2 billion project expected to open to passengers in 2023.

So this is finally happening?

Yes. The first thing many people will notice is that roughly two-thirds of Minneapolis’ Kenilworth Trail, the paved bike path that runs between Cedar Lake and Lake of the Isles, will close next month, and so will a nearby stretch of the Cedar Lake trail that runs through St. Louis Park and Hopkins. The closures could last for the entire duration of the light-rail construction and will be the first visible sign of work along the route.


Those closures will have a significant impact. The Kenilworth Trail alone counts nearly 663,200 annual trips, according to regional parks officials. “We’re going to have to all work through it,” SWLRT Project Director Jim Alexander said this week, standing in what will be a future transit station in Hopkins near Excelsior Boulevard. Alexander is among those who use the trails to bike to work.

As early as May 13, crews will block off the Kenilworth trail between the Midtown Greenway and West 21st Street, and the Cedar Lake trail from its intersection near Hopkin’s North Cedar Lake trail to France Avenue in St. Louis Park. People should follow new signs pointing out detours, Alexander said

In addition to the closures, people in St. Louis Park may notice unusual freight train traffic beginning mid-May as an early indication of SWLRT construction. At a construction site between Highway 100 and Beltline Boulevard, crews plan to start receiving and unloading 1,600-foot rail segments for the new line.

Metropolitan Council
I’ve heard the project is going to be removing some trees. On the scale of tree-trimming to tree-pocalypse, what’s this going to look like?

Over the next several weeks, the construction firm leading the project, Lunda Construction/C.S. McCrossan, and Metro Transit will coordinate with Minneapolis officials on a plan for removing trees and shrubs in the way of the light rail line, Alexander said. Right now, about 2,100 trees are in the construction area, 1,300 of which crews will take out for the light-rail project. Eventually, crews plan to plant 1,100 new trees and plants that are native to the area as a replacement to the lost vegetation from construction, Alexander said.

So the deforestation will be visible — and audible, especially in neighborhoods such as Minneapolis’ Bryn Mawr and St. Louis Park’s Lake Forest, Alexander said. Freight trains will also remain in service to add to the din. “Construction is messy, and I think everybody needs to understand that,” he said, describing how crews will follow rules on sound levels and allowable hours for construction. “We’re working in people’s backyards, so to speak, and we want to be mindful of that.”

How has that gone over?

As with many things related to the Southwest LRT project, the tree-cutting plan is not without controversy. A group of state and local politicians as well as neighbors believe the Met Council should hold off on the tree removal at least for now until the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) finalizes its $929 million portion of the project.

Kenilworth Trail
MinnPost photo by Jessica Lee
This area of the Kenilworth Trail will become the West Lake Station in Minneapolis.
In a letter to Met Council Chair Nora Slawik, Sen. Scott Dibble, Rep. Frank Hornstein and Minneapolis City Council member Lisa Goodman, as well as members of Minneapolis Parks and Recreation Board, wrote: “In the event that SWLRT does not proceed for any reason, elimination of this unique, urban forest preserve and passageway would be a reckless and irreversible mistake. At a minimum, should construction be delayed for whatever reason, losing the ability to enjoy it for this spring and summer season would be a shame.”

Wait, they don’t have the money from the feds yet?

Technically, no. But that’s also not unusual. For similar large-scale transit projects across the country — including the first the stretch of the Green Line between Minneapolis and St. Paul — the FTA typically finalizes money agreements during or after construction. In the meantime, they issue what are called “Letters of No Prejudice” to transit agencies as documented approval of design plans and a sign that federal funding is on its way.


The Met Council received such a letter for SWLRT in November, which means local authorities have been writing checks for construction with assurance the federal government will reimburse them. All similar U.S. transportation projects that have received a Letter of No Prejudice have eventually secured the federal money, according to the Met Council.

What’s the harm in waiting, then?

On Thursday, while describing the latest construction plans, Alexander said halting the Kenilworth project could result in a higher price tag for the project which taxpayers would eventually have to cover and threaten the light-rail’s standing with the FTA. He also cited a 2015 study in which community members and light-rail engineers agreed on a plan to protect the area’s natural resources, as part of a request for an environmental review by former Gov. Mark Dayton.

“We intend to keep moving,” Alexander said. “FTA wants to squeeze out as much as risk as possible before they sign on the dotted line, but the fact that we’ve been meeting with them since roughly 2012 on this project — at least on a monthly basis — and got a ‘Letter of No Prejudice’ from them for the civil construction, we feel very comfortable that we’ll be moving forward.”

This Eden Prairie parking lot/transit center will become the SouthWest Station.
MinnPost photo by Jessica Lee
This Eden Prairie parking lot/transit center will become the SouthWest Station.
In addition to the campaign against tree removal on the Kenilworth corridor, a lawsuit seeking to block the entire SWLRT project is pending in the Eighth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. The plaintiff, the citizens group Lakes and Parks Alliance, is arguing the Met Council did not adequately study the line’s impact on the environment, specifically in the Kenilworth corridor.

Okay, so when is the project going to start messing with car traffic?

It’s not entirely clear. It was the complexity of the work needing to be done along Kenilworth corridor and in Hopkins and St. Louis Park that put those sites among the first things to be tackled, Alexander said.

In Hopkins, for example, there will be a new transit station, Shady Oak Station, with a park-and-ride facility and access to the the Cedar Lake trail. After going through downtown Hopkins, trains will pass under Highway 169 and cross Excelsior Boulevard on a new bridge. In St. Louis Park, the route will pass over Minnehaha Creek on a new bridge and go over Highway 100.


Just south of the Kenilworth corridor, there will be another new transit station below what is now the West Lake Street bridge, which will eventually be a hub for frequent bus service and light rail, with an elevator and stairway to help passengers get to street level. There will also be a new tunnel underneath the Kenilworth Trail and Cedar Lake Parkway, a new bridge and another transit station just east of Cedar Lake, 21st Street Station, which officials call “a gateway to the regional trail network.”

For various reasons, other sites considered to be especially complex include the southernmost stop in Eden Prairie; the new bridge over Excelsior Boulevard in Hopkins; and a crossing underneath Interstate 94 near Glenwood Avenue in Minneapolis. Those areas could need two to three years of work, though Lunda Construction/C.S. McCrossan has not yet finalized construction details for the sites.

But as of now, it’s unclear when — and where — crews will make the first roadway closure along the route, Alexander said Thursday. Lunda Construction/C.S. McCrossan and the Met Council are finalizing construction schedules, with plans to release weekly updates on detours and closures every Friday.

“Once we’re in the heavy throws of things, we’ll have construction throughout the whole length,” he said.“Frankly, they’re (the contractor) ramping up.”

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Comments (37)

  1. Submitted by lisa miller on 04/26/2019 - 05:45 pm.

    Should have been an already dense area for the route; here come the developers and trees going down. Too bad it was not better thought out.

    • Submitted by Nathan Fisher on 04/29/2019 - 08:32 am.

      What’s wrong with developers? My generation is facing a housing shortage because of NIMBY policies of previous generations. No one has a right to low density housing in the metro area; it’s like asserting you have the rights to all the fresh water during a drought.

      • Submitted by Lisa Bailey on 10/07/2019 - 08:55 pm.

        I left Minnesota because of the weather and the political environment. Your comment confirms it was a good decision. Why are Minnesotans such haters when people work hard and live in a neighborhood they have strived for? It’s not a NIMBY issue, it’s a bad decision.

    • Submitted by Pat Terry on 04/29/2019 - 02:12 pm.

      It was very well thought out. Its just that the NIMBYs did not get their way.

  2. Submitted by Gary Cohen on 04/26/2019 - 08:46 pm.

    And, just think of the fun if the Lakes & Parks Alliance law suit ultimately prevails!

    • Submitted by Nathan Fisher on 04/30/2019 - 02:49 pm.

      If that lawsuit prevails, all you’re doing is delaying the inevitable. With a housing shortage and a younger population that elected a YIMBY mayor to power, that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Low density inside the center city just does not have any valid public policy rationale. If you win in the courts, the legislatures one by one will start coming for you.

  3. Submitted by Drew Gmitro on 04/26/2019 - 10:15 pm.

    Another losing “RR to nowhere” costing tax payers a bundle, which won’t ever recoup the GUARANTEED cost over runs. What a waste.

    • Submitted by Richard Turnbull on 04/27/2019 - 07:59 am.

      You can explain why Eden Prairie, Hopkins, St. Louis Park, and SW Minneapolis is “nowhere” in excruciating detail to other dyspeptic critics enamored of fact-free complaints, enjoy!
      Others may want to mitigate the reasonably foreseeable damages of any such gargantuan public investment as best we are able, instead.

    • Submitted by Jim DeWall on 04/27/2019 - 10:23 am.

      Small minds, objecting to light rail. Should the Twin Cities just build more freeways? I lived in St. Louis Park until 2012, when the SW Line had already been talked about for many years. I then moved to Denver, where we have 88 miles of light rail, 71 stations along 10 rail lines like spokes on a wheel in every direction and more lines under construction. What direction are you going, Minneapolis? – Jim DeWall, Denver

      • Submitted by Karen Sandness on 05/01/2019 - 03:46 pm.

        Portland has five light rail lines, with another on the drawing board, a commuter rail line, and three streetcar lines. This is in addition to a network of frequently running bus lines. It has built two light rail lines, the commuter rail line, and two of the streetcar lines since I left in 2003, but even in that lesser state of development, it was easy to live without a car.

        By the way, as in the Twin Cities, Portland’s transit system is run by the Metro Council. However, the difference is that Portland’s Metro Council is *elected.* Anti-transit types keep running for Metro, but they are typically defeated 2 to 1.

  4. Submitted by Andrew Thompson on 04/27/2019 - 07:38 am.

    Another waste of money. Current light rail lines are costing us a large amount of money every year through continuing and increasing subsidies. There is no demand for this “public utility” that would necessitate it’s creation. It will create more pollution than the number of cars it is projected to replace.

    • Submitted by Jim DeWall on 04/28/2019 - 11:44 am.

      It’s interesting to learn Mr. Thompson that while light rail costs substantial money, freeway construction and maintenance must be free, according to your reasoning. Also, it’s interesting to learn that electrically-powered light rail causes more pollution than the thousands and thousands of cars and trucks backed up on the Twin Cities freeways.

      • Submitted by Larry Moran on 04/29/2019 - 09:35 am.

        Please read the Final Environmental Impact Statement for this line’s affect on congestion and pollution. The projected impacts by 2040 are minor on both.

        • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 04/30/2019 - 10:13 am.

          You don’t build transit for people who won’t use it. The purpose isn’t to relieve YOUR road congestion, the purpose of transit is to move people, and it does that very well to the tune of tens of thousands a day. If you want to sit in traffic that’s your decision and we’re not building transit to make YOUR life easier.

          As for environmental effects, it depends what you look at, If you look at the local effects transit moves people without contributing smog locally so the more people use transit instead of cars the better the air quality downtown for instance.

          • Submitted by Larry Moran on 04/30/2019 - 12:03 pm.

            My point is that, according to the Met Council’s environmental statement, you’re not moving significantly more people with this route than currently use public transit. According to the report this route will attract 13,000 new transit riders a day by 2040. These are one way rides so that, presumably, those riders need to return to where they started; the increased transit riders is more like 6500. For perspective, Hwy 169 has about 90,000 cars traveling on it each day, Hwy 100 has about 105,000, and Hwy 394 has about 125,000 per day. While taking 6500 cars off the road is better than not it’s not significant compared to the number of cars currently using these major arteries.

            Greenhouse gas is greenhouse gas. To say that it doesn’t matter that we produce it in Sherburne county because it helps air quality in downtown Minneapolis seems to be a weak argument for light rail.

            There may be a lot of reasons to build light rail but moving large numbers of people or helping the environment are not among them.

            • Submitted by Nathan Fisher on 04/30/2019 - 02:46 pm.

              If you build it, they will come. It’s not enough to just build the light rail and hope large numbers of people will use it. Build the light rail AND rezone for higher density around the stations. Build some transportation villages with commercial, residential, and retail. Local government is in charge of zoning last time I checked–thats the hold up not some abstract “free market” lack of “riders”.

          • Submitted by Karen Sandness on 05/01/2019 - 03:56 pm.

            Rail does not reduce congestion. Just look at Tokyo–most comprehensive multi-modal (surface train, subway, streetcar, bus) urban transit system in the world, and yet the metropolitan area highways are clogged. (If you’re on an intercity bus from Tokyo Station, it may take half an hour to travel the five miles to the city limits on the freeway.)

            But the point is that no one in Tokyo HAS TO drive. And when there is a pro forma transit strike (usually lasting for a day), companies urge their employees to take a day off or to spend the night in the office, because otherwise, there would be millions of extra cars on the road.

            Look at the commuter trains coming into the various main stations every three minutes during rush hour, and you just know that the city would be a permanent parking lot if everyone drove.

            Plenty of people in Portland still drive. Yet when I went to my doctor’s appointments there, I always took the light rail, and it was pleasing to sit on the train and watch the cars creeping along on the Banfield freeway.

  5. Submitted by Richard Adair on 04/27/2019 - 10:22 am.

    Building low-carbon transportation infrastructure like SWLRT is essential to fighting global warming. Short term impacts are unavoidable and have been carefully considered at hundreds of public meetings over the last 10 years, as have alternative routes, relocation of freight rail, saving as many trees as possible and replacing the trees lost with more desirable native species.

    We will all be glad to have SWLRT when the damage from climate change inevitably accelerates and gas costs $15 per gallon.

  6. Submitted by Stan Hooper on 04/27/2019 - 04:25 pm.

    What that could mean to me? Not much; I don’t live there. I seem to be experiencing the feeling that anything east of St. Paul is just a bunch of junkyards and septic pits that don’t deserve any consideration for light rail. I’m in agreement with the fellow from Denver; light rail has been shown to be good for communities willing to establish them, and the accusation about increased pollution is speculative B.S.

    • Submitted by Larry Moran on 04/28/2019 - 10:05 am.

      The “speculative BS” that building this route will cause more pollution (greenhouse gas emissions) is brought to you by the Metro Council in their environmental impact statement. And while Denver’s system may work well it probably established routes where people actually live.

      • Submitted by Derek Thompson on 04/29/2019 - 11:13 am.

        Actually Denver built so many lines because most of it’s lines use existing right of way like the Blue and Green Line extension. MSP actually has a much higher ridership per mile because our existing lines go through pretty dense areas.

      • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 04/30/2019 - 10:27 am.

        Nowhere in the EIS for SWLRT does it conclude that the line will cause more pollution, Mr. Moran is simply making a false claim here… repeatedly.

        Regarding air quality and greenhouse gases the EIS concludes that there will be no direct OR indirect long term adverse effects.

        Page 28, #3.11

        https://www.leg.state.mn.us/docs/2016/mandated/160540/SWLRT-FEIS-ExecSummary.pdf

        • Submitted by Larry Moran on 04/30/2019 - 12:30 pm.

          I think I’d rather look at the actual data than depend on the executive summary and conclusions from the people who want to build this line: https://metrocouncil.org/getattachment/e093bc25-ea29-480d-8d06-8916bae3c846/SWLRT-FEIS-Chapter-03_Environmental-Analysis.aspx

          Page 3-204 shows the data collected/projected on current (2013), 2040 no build, and 2040 build scenarios for greenhouse gas emissions (GHG). The projections are that GHG from cars decreases under the build scenario by .1% vs. the no build. GHG from LRT operations increases 37.5% (from a low base) vs. the no build. The other remaining categories remain the same. The conclusion is that, by 2040, building LRT will add about 2000 tons of GHG into the atmosphere. As I’ve said, this is insignificant. Contrary to other arguments that building LRT will REDUCE GHG the data/projections shows it will not. If it doesn’t move a lot of new riders and doesn’t reduce GHG is it the best use of our money?

          • Submitted by Nathan Fisher on 04/30/2019 - 08:56 pm.

            Yes it is the best use of our money. You can cherry pick quotes out of a Met Council report but, a process has been followed and they decided to act despite clearly hearing the opposition viewpoint and understanding it. You’re comparing percentages to integer numbers without context, and you sort of admit to yourself in passing that’s what you’re doing.

            I’m sorry you lost out dude but, don’t say there wasn’t a public process that has popular support. You win some you lose some but please don’t make the mistake of feeling like you weren’t heard. We heard you. Next.

            • Submitted by Larry Moran on 05/01/2019 - 09:22 am.

              I’m not “cherry picking quotes” I’m pointing to data. You may not like the data, and I’m sorry for that, but that doesn’t change it.

              And pardon me if I don’t feel I wasn’t heard. I was heard. I knew from the beginning of my involvement 12 years ago that Hennepin County had decided on the route and had no intention of moving the freight rail. I just hoped that what I said may improve the outcome. It just took about half that time to realize the planners could give a crap about what other people thought, though they pretended to.

              I’ve said there are a lot of reasons for building LRT. I just don’t think reducing congestion and GHG emissions are among them.

              • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 05/01/2019 - 03:28 pm.

                “I’ve said there are a lot of reasons for building LRT. I just don’t think reducing congestion and GHG emissions are among them.”

                I agree. You build LRT to move people and provide transit options in a rational scenario. Whether or not transit reduces traffic congestion is almost irrelevant, and the effects on GHG may or may not be significant depending on the scenario.

          • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 05/01/2019 - 12:34 pm.

            Larry, if your going to look at the data, look at ALL the relevant data.The TOTAL levels of emissions actually decrease by the year 2040 by 955k tons, despite the additional 2 tons from LRT. No one has ever said that LRT is emission free, but in every scenario it produces fewer emissions than every other mode of transportation with the exception of commuter rail. This is why the executive correctly concludes zero net effect.

            Sure, the more LRT we build, the more energy LRT uses… kind of a: “duh”. But while LRT is projected to produce 15 thousand tons of emissions in 2040, automobiles will contribute 15 MILLION tons.

  7. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 04/30/2019 - 10:34 am.

    Were it not for NIMBY resistance in the Kenilworth region this line would already be up and running, and for a quite a few a million dollars less.

    • Submitted by Nathan Fisher on 04/30/2019 - 02:58 pm.

      Hear hear. Luckily the federal government is a currency monopolist so the increase in cost will just stimulate the local economy incrementally more 🙂

    • Submitted by Lisa Bailey on 10/07/2019 - 09:06 pm.

      Sorry, but blaming increased costs on people who pay unbelievably high property taxes along the SWLRT line in the Cedar Isles is wrong. It’s not a NIMBY issue, it’s an economic issue. Property values decrease, property taxes decrease.

  8. Submitted by Mike martin on 05/02/2019 - 11:53 pm.

    Over $ 600 million was added to the cost of the Kenilworth route because they could not relocate the freight rail line. (tunnel etc.) and this increase does not change which of the 3 routes is the best or lowest cost???? DUH?? You could tell they did not seriously consider changing the route by how much time the spent “studying” the new cost before saying that Kenilworth was still the best route.

    The Met Council and Hennepin County commissioners made up their mind that Kenilworth was the route they wanted. When the cost increased from $ 1.2 billion to $ 2 billion they did not go back and change the route to either of the lower cost routes to

    go through Uptown with all its new apartments & hotels so those residents could use the LRT to get downtown

    or

    past the West End with over $ 5 billion of development of apartments, hotels, shopping, movie theater, restaurants,offices etc.

    NO the LRT has to go through a park where no one lives or works??????

    • Submitted by Dave Carlson on 05/03/2019 - 10:28 am.

      Yes, I think the West End or Uptown/Midtown/Nicollet routes would have better served a larger population but I believe these routes would have cost considerably more since the LRT is using mostly rail corridor already owned by Hennepin County Regional Rail Authority. Not sure how you would route the LRT from the West End, for instance, except maybe going down the BNSF RR corridor which also takes the route through Cedar Lake Park anyway, or cutting through Eloise Butler Wildlife Gardens?

    • Submitted by Lisa Bailey on 10/07/2019 - 09:07 pm.

      Amen.

  9. Submitted by Mike martin on 05/02/2019 - 11:58 pm.

    The Dems claim they are concerned about the poor and helping the poor.

    But what do they do when they need to pay for SW LRT? They decide to raise taxes on poor people by raising the sales tax.

    People that study taxes know the sales taxes are regressive. That is the lower your income, the greater percentage of your income you pay in sales taxes.

    So much for the Dems actually being concerned about poor people

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