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

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

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.

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.”

“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. 

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Comments (11)

  1. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 02/13/2014 - 11:52 am.

    Change

    …terrifies the comfortable. Sometimes justifiably, sometimes not. And sometimes dissatisfaction depends upon whose ox is being gored. If I recall correctly, people in the Kenilworth corridor have not been overly pleased with what St. Louis Park would prefer.

    So, everybody wants light rail, but no one wants any of the ancillary inconvenience that might go with it, and it *is* interesting that no one seems to have asked the railroad in question if it has a preferred route, what that route might be, etc. If the freight rails get relocated, how does that affect the freight operations?

    It might be useful to point out to the folks in the audience that a substantial part of what they consider modern life arrives in their vicinity via freight train. Overall, this reminds me more than a little of the flap from some Minneapolis residents about airplane noise around the airport should takeoff and landing patterns be consolidated, and the insistence of residents nearby that noise walls be erected where the interstate goes through their neighborhood.

    I’d like the conveniences and advantages please, and I’d like all the negative effects to fall on someone else, thank you very much.

    • Submitted by john herbert on 02/13/2014 - 03:54 pm.

      Change if it makes sense

      Some of us who live in St. Louis Park think light rail can be one leg of a modern mass tranisit system, however most of the same people also believe that such should be efficient and cost effective. Routing heavy fright trains through our neigborhoods to move a few commuters from the western suburbs is neither.

      I believe one may find it difficult to find many folks in my city or SW Minneapolis who will benefit, however we collectively will pay more than our share of the cost, both through our taxes and quality of life.

      Lets take a pass on this one and use the 1.5 billion to better purpose.

      Well done Mayor Jacos – HURRAH.

  2. Submitted by Curtis Griesel on 02/13/2014 - 12:12 pm.

    Why EP?

    Why are we building light rail to a place where everyone owns a car, and they have a nice, new hiway? Why no build it where people need transportation, like N Mpls?

    • Submitted by Todd Hintz on 02/13/2014 - 12:49 pm.

      North Minneapolis

      Actually the route deliberately touches on north Minneapolis for the express purpose of picking up people who do not have cars to run them to jobs in the Golden Triangle and Eden Prairie. The rails run both ways, so this is not all about getting people from Eden Prairie to Minneapolis.

      • Submitted by Bill Schletzer on 02/13/2014 - 05:41 pm.

        I agree this is the one good purpose for this…

        But there are way, way cheaper and better ways to do this. How about a dedicated express route from Plymouth Ave and Lyndale north to EP Golden Triangle, with local feeder routes at each end.

        As for EP to Mpls, there is already a fance bus terminal near 5 and 494 in EP for inbound commuters. Seems like traffic in that direction is already taken care of.

  3. Submitted by Sean Fahey on 02/13/2014 - 01:39 pm.

    Community Agency

    St. Louis Park and Kenilworth area residents are pitted against each other so that whichever side loses, the Met Council and the money behind the project still wins. We now find that municipal consent can be overridden by the Met Council, so now the project just needs to split the opposition to the route, and cast one side or the other (or both) as backwards-looking NIMBYs. ( Met Council’s Jim Alexander on the issue of consent at http://sailor.mnsun.com/2013/07/01/lack-of-municipal-consent-on-trains-may-not-matter-much/ )

    The Kenilworth corridor is not just a bike trail, it’s paths that were repurposed into a natural area that people from all over the metro use frequently. And St. Louis Park’s neighborhoods don’t deserve to have freight traffic dumped on them, especially when we see dangerous train derailments every day with increasing traffic around the country. (https://www.dhs.gov/dhs-daily-open-source-infrastructure-report)

    These communities should work together to fight this project, which at its most generous estimates will only shuttle 30k people daily, 15 years from now.

  4. Submitted by Michael Hess on 02/13/2014 - 02:25 pm.

    Following Through

    So when St. Louis Park agreed to have the freight re-routed in return for cleanup of hazardous contaminated sites in SLP, that was not sincere? Now that there are numerous different proposals developed to follow-through, it seems its a non-starter.

    • Submitted by J Schultz on 02/13/2014 - 05:13 pm.

      lies, lies, lies

      In 1983, EPA placed the site on the National Priorities List (NPL). Restrictions limited access to the area while cleanup crews removed contaminated soil, refilled and revegetated the area, cleaned or demolished buildings, and installed a protective asphalt cover. EPA deleted the site from the NPL in 1998, but ground water monitoring continues. In 2009, EPA made a determination that the site met the requirements for Site-Wide Ready for Anticipated Use, opening the door to site reuse. Real Estate Recycling and its development subsidiary, Highway 7 Business Center LLC, currently own both properties. Today, the site is home to the Highway 7 Business Center, which consists of an industrial/ commercial office/ warehouse building with associated parking, drive and green space areas.

      Copied and pasted from the EPA website. Google is your friend.

  5. Submitted by Janne Flisrand on 02/14/2014 - 08:45 am.

    Fresh ideas, improved benefit?

    Has anyone considered this set of solutions to the stalemate?

    http://www.streets.mn/2014/02/11/southwest-lrt-plan/

    • Submitted by Sara Bergen on 02/14/2014 - 05:25 pm.

      At the meeting on Wednesday someone asked a question about single track. One of the met council staff, maybe Mark Fuhrman? said that it had been considered but was determined to present too many operational challenges. The main concern was that it would diminish the reliability of service. He said many of the lines (not all) around the country that opted for single track solutions are now regretting it, and/or adding a second track.

      Does anyone know if the met council staff, or any of the CMC members have seen Matt’s write-up? Could be the proverbial silver bullet.

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