New Southwest LRT plan: Kenilworth residents will be ‘disappointed’

Courtesy of the Metropolitan Council
A rendering of the proposed Kenilworth Corridor/21st Street station area released July 8, 2014.

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.

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Comments (12)

  1. Submitted by Rich Miller on 07/08/2014 - 05:21 pm.

    What a deal

    Minneapolis gets nothing out of this. There will be no development along most of the line in Minneapolis and the trails will be ruined. North Minneapolis will not be served unless there are multiple transfers from most places to take the LRT to minimum wage jobs in Edin Prairie.

    • Submitted by jeff mcmenimen on 07/08/2014 - 08:43 pm.

      That’s not true, Rich. The Royalston, Van White and West Lake Stations all have tremendous redevelopment potential. The Penn Station has some (not a lot) of redevelopment potential. Only the 21st Street Station has limited to no redevelopment potential. The trails will not be ruined. They’ll still be great trails and when transit is put in, they’ll be linked to transit. North Minneapolis will eventually be served by the Bottineau (blue line) LRT and Penn Avenue arterial bus lines. You can’t serve the entire City with one line, Rich. The SW LRT (green line) serves the southwest portions of the City/metro. There are many options for a variety of wage jobs all along the SW LRT corridor. You’re not seeing the big picture, Rich. Open your mind and dig deeper to see the potential.

    • Submitted by Mark Handeland on 07/10/2014 - 12:15 am.

      Poor deal

      You are correct Rich. This project will scar some of the best areas of Minneapolis mainly to support continued sprawl in the SW metro.

      What will be interesting to see is how many riders from the SW metro will actually take the train. The newly opened Central line takes 50 min to get 11 miles to downtown St. Paul. How long will a 16 mile ride to Eden Prairie take? I’m expecting over 1 hour. The SW metro already has the southwest bus system which is very well liked by it’s riders. I have coworkers that commute to downtown whom have said they will not give up their bus for the train once it is finished. They expect it to double their commute time.

      My concern is that this project will be built, have low ridership and the anti rail groups will have another reason to argue against future rail projects in the metro.

  2. Submitted by Neal Gendler on 07/08/2014 - 07:59 pm.

    21st Street station? Franklin Avenue bus line?

    Three questions:

    1. Does elimination of one tunnel mean that the SWLR will run above grade in one of its two directions? If so, that doesn’t do much to improve the crossing near Cedar Lake beach. One hundred LRT trains a day plus the odd molasses-speed freight still will tie up traffic something awful.

    2. Who will use this 21st station? Unless I have my geography wrong — and the map and my experience of living near there suggest I don’t — the area is one of the lowest density residential areas in all of Minneapolis.

    3. Franklin Avenue bus? To the best of my knowledge — and the MTCO bus-route map — the only bus line west of the Shriner’s Temple is on Douglas Avenue. Is MTCO planning a new route west of Hennepin on Franklin?

    Meantime, the wide Midtown corridor sits mostly empty as hundreds of new apartments rise along its north side.

    • Submitted by David Greene on 07/09/2014 - 12:03 am.

      Some answers

      1. The eliminated tunnel is for both directions north of the channel. The train will be underground south of the channel.

      2. I expect quite a few of those people live downtown and would take the train there. Also #3.

      3. My understanding is that the Met Council plans to extend the #2 line (or some moral equivalent) to the 21st St. station.

      The Midtown corridor is likely to host LRT from West Lake to Hiawatha. The Alternatives Analysis was just completed this year and Met Council should be adding it to the schedule soon. That doesn’t guarantee funding of course but it makes it an official project.

      • Submitted by Hudson Leighton on 07/09/2014 - 09:02 am.

        #25 already goes to 21st

        “3. My understanding is that the Met Council plans to extend the #2 line (or some moral equivalent) to the 21st St. station.”

        ——————-

        The #25 already stops at 21st and the tracks

        • Submitted by David Greene on 07/09/2014 - 08:59 pm.

          #25 may stop there but one of the reasons the station benefits, for example, the Minneapolis Native American community is that they expect to use bus service to connect at 21st. St. Maybe the #2 won’t extend all the way there but there will be some sort of connection from the #2 corridor to 21st. St. There’s no reason both routes couldn’t server the station — the routes have distinct constituencies.

  3. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 07/09/2014 - 12:00 am.

    Gets nothing…

    Except tens of thousands of people moving in and out of the city to shop, work, and attend events… on a daily basis. It boggles the mind when mineapolitans claim they get nothing when in fact they’re the biggest beneficiaries of any regional transit system they are in the center of.

    It actually amazes me that this process has produced such an obvious and efficient plan. There never was a good reason to tunnel north of the channel because there’s plenty of room at grade there. If this deal holds it will be a wonderful example of community overcoming hyper local minority wealth.

  4. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 07/09/2014 - 08:19 am.

    All I can say is….

    There are two points at which the Cedar Lake bike trail crosses the current RR tracks and another where the Greenway trail crosses. These crossings of course will be part of the LRT. They should give some serious consideration to running the bike trail at these crossing through a short shallow tunnel because if they leave them at grade it’s likely that bikers will get hit by LR trains on semi-regular basis. I suppose they could put some kind of gates in but we’ve seen people drive their cars around the those gates on Hiawatha, bikers will do the same thing.

  5. Submitted by Chris Williams on 07/09/2014 - 10:18 am.

    Take the train to the beach!

    Love the idea of bringing back the 21st ST station. I can see taking the train to the beach as a fun weekend outing.

  6. Submitted by Neal Gendler on 07/09/2014 - 07:34 pm.

    #25

    Hudson, I admit I don’t know what bus is #25. What I do know is that reports about this line keep saying the Franklin Avenue bus, when this is no such bus west of what I think is Colfax. A look at the MTCO route chart confirmed my observation.

    Like my City Council representative, I cannot imagine much use of this line for Minneapolis residents anywhere north of Lake Calhoun, if even there.

    And I don’t know enough to confidently contradict the person who said “The eliminated tunnel is for both directions north of the channel,” but it’s my belief that one line will be outbound, the other inbound — neither going in both directions. Else there’d be just one rail line.

    • Submitted by David Greene on 07/09/2014 - 09:02 pm.

      Tunnels

      Both parallel tracks are in the same tunnel south of the channel. They would have been in the same tunnel north of the channel but we’re not going to build that tunnel, and rightly so.

      Think of the tunnel under the Minnehaha Parkway land bridge. One tunnel to serve both directions (with a separating wall between the two tracks).

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