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Ovation greets St. Louis Park mayor’s stand against freight-rail move

St. Louis Park residents and officials cite noise, classroom disruption and safety concerns in heated meeting with a Met Council panel.

St. Louis Park Mayor Jeff Jacobs addressing Wednesday night's Southwest LRT town hall meeting.
Courtesy of the Metropolitan Council

St. Louis Park Mayor Jeff Jacobs received a standing ovation after he spoke Wednesday against relocating freight trains to his community as part of the Southwest Corridor Light Rail Project.

“It will be difficult for the St. Louis Park City Council to see a path forward to [the] municipal consent” required for federal funding, Jacobs told a Metropolitan Council panel after making the case that the Kenilworth Corridor in Minneapolis would be a better location for the freight trains.

All five of the communities through which the light rail line runs are required to consent to the route, and the configuration must be viewed favorably by the Federal Transit Administration, which will be asked to pay for half of the $1.25 billion cost.

Jacobs said he was speaking on behalf of a unified St. Louis Park City Council that has consistently supported the light rail project but will not support rerouting of freight trains through the community when there are other viable options.

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Jacobs said the St. Louis Park option would require the acquisition of homes, construction of railroad bridges, highway modifications and closure of city streets – none of which would be required if the freight trains remain in the Kenilworth Corridor.

Reroute near schools

The reroute would bring freight trains within 85 feet of St. Louis Park High School classrooms and within 35 feet of the school’s parking lot. The proposed route also runs near an elementary school and a pre-school facility.

“Should the St. Louis Park option be adopted, the message sent by the Metropolitan Council to the youth of our community will be that freight trains are more important than our children,” said School Board Chair Nancy Gores who cited noise, classroom disruption and safety as reasons to reject the route.

“This plan, this concept, this premature idea raises so many safety concerns and educational concerns that it is throwing our children under the train tracks,” said Gores. “We really hope that you recognize that this as a bad idea, bad public policy and not what Minnesota stands for.”

One voice not heard at the meeting was that of the Twin Cities & Western Railroad Co., which operates the freight trains in question. TCWR President Mark Wegner has not commented officially on the new route suggested by railroad consultant TranSystems of Kansas City, which studied nine options for relocating the trains before suggesting the route through St. Louis Park.

Strong words for Met Council

Many at the meeting asked pointedly why biking and walking trails are being maintained along the route in Minneapolis, while St. Louis Park gets stuck with the freight trains. They also asked why homes might be taken in their community while none are being lost in Minneapolis.

“You have pushed us around for four years,” shouted one participant.

“We don’t trust the Met Council,” shouted another.

“I’m done with you. I’m done waiting. I’m done being respectful,” said Meg McCormick of St. Louis Park, who told Metropolitan Council members that she would be filing complaints about their practices with several agencies. “I believe your behavior has been unethical, you have caved to political pandering and you have failed to be objective.”

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“We hear a lot of strong feelings,” said Metropolitan Council Chair Susan Haigh after the meeting. “We have faced a lot of tough decisions on this project, we have probably solved a dozen technical issues that are important to communities, and I’m confident that we’re going to be able to resolve this issue and advance this project.”

The next step will be to receive the final recommendations of the railroad and water quality consultants Gov. Mark Dayton requested when he delayed a final decision on the project last fall to allow for more study.

City councils in communities along the route are expected to vote on the question of municipal consent later this spring.