A new plan for Southwest Light Rail Transit in Minneapolis would eliminate the shallow tunnel north of the channel between Cedar and Lake of the Isles — even while retaining the tunnel south of the channel and also including a station at 21st Street that had earlier been eliminated as part of the planning process.
Details of the new plan were made public this morning after weeks of closed-door mediation sessions between the City of Minneapolis and the Metropolitan Council.
Elimination of the north tunnel shaves $60 million from the projected $1.683 billion cost of the project, though under the new plan half of that money is put back into the configuration of the line, for a total cost of $1.653 billion.
“The City of Minneapolis has always strongly supported a vision for Southwest Light Rail Transit,” said Peter Wagenius, who represented Mayor Betsy Hodges at the City Council’s Transportation and Public Works Committee meeting, where the agreement was unveiled. “Our support now comes at a high cost, an unexpected and unwelcome high cost, because the freight trains were supposed to be moved.”
“The Kenilworth Corridor will not be the same,” said Wagenius, as he described the route that will see both light rail and freight train traffic under the plan. “It could have been far worse if it had not been for the tentative agreement.”
“This is the most responsible way to move forward,” he said.
“We understand that residents along the Kenilworth Corridor will be disappointed, but the Mayor believes the greater good demands that we seek a path for Southwest Light Rail to move forward.”
The station at 21st Street had been dropped from consideration because the tunnel north of the channel between Cedar Lake and Lake of the Isles would have bypassed the location. With that tunnel now eliminated, a station at 21st Street, connecting with the Franklin Avenue bus line, is once again part of the plan.
Under the terms of the agreement between the city and the Met Council, the land under the freight rails will continue to be owned by the public. The Twin Cities and Western Railroad, which is the sole user of the tracks, will be prohibited from leasing the tracks to other freight carriers.
“It is very important to the neighborhood, and the City of Minneapolis, that the freight situation not get worse than it is today,” said Wagenius.
The agreement also calls for restoration of the bike and pedestrian lanes that are now part of the Kenilworth Corridor. The bike lanes are second only to the Midtown Corridor in terms of daily bike traffic.
“The Kenilworth Corridor is located in a park-like setting,” said Steve Kotke, director of public works for Minneapolis. “The Corridor shall be designed at a park-like level of amenity, not only restoring, but improving the pre-existing conditions.”
Terms of the agreement also specify that all land acquired that is not used for the project will become the property of the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board. Most of that land will be north of the channel connecting the lakes.
The south tunnel will bring light rail under the busy intersection at Cedar Lake Parkway and eliminate the need for acquisition of 57 residential parcels at an estimate cost of $15 million.
The agreement also calls for improvements to the Royalston Station near the Minneapolis Farmers Market, and for a new pedestrian bridge to improve access at the Van White Station on the near north side.
“This was about how to make this project better than the original proposal in a way that serves more residents of Minneapolis and preserves the Kenilwoerth Corridor,” said Council Member Elizabeth Glidden, who participated in the negotiations with the Metropolitan Council.
A public hearing tonight, originally scheduled for comment on the previous plan, which included the two shallow tunnels and eliminated the station at 21st Street, will now become an opportunity for residents to ask questions and voice their opinions. That meeting will take place at 7 p.m. at Anwatin Middle School at 256 Upton Avenue South.
The new plan also changes the previous schedule for municipal consent decisions by the communities along the 16-mile SWLRT route, from Eden Prairie to downtown Minneapolis. Originally, all of those communities had until Monday, July 14, to approve or disapprove the project. Now the communities will have until Aug. 29 to make their decision.
Minneapolis has scheduled a public hearing on the new plan for Aug. 19.
The Southwest Corridor Management Committee, made up of city and county officials, will meet at 10 a.m. July 9 to review and discuss the plan. That session is followed by a 4 p.m. meeting of the Metropolitan Council.
The Hennepin County Regional Railroad Authority and the Metropolitan Council will meet Aug. 13 to hear public testimony about the new plan. Hennepin County is expect to vote on Municipal Consent on Aug. 19.