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New Southwest LRT plan lauded and lambasted at public meeting

Southwest LRT public meeting
MinnPost file photo by Karen Bor
A group of north Minneapolis workers arrived in hard hats and safety vests to make a point in favor of the construction jobs the light rail might provide.

There were job seekers, folks who want to ride the new train and people opposed to the route for Southwest Light Rail, which runs through what is now a park-like setting that will serve relatively few Minneapolis riders.

At the first public meeting after the announcement of a deal hammered out between the City of Minneapolis and the Metropolitan Council over the route, all had something to say. Most were passionate in their remarks, even as they came less than 12 hours after the new plan for the Minneapolis segment of the 16-mile line was unveiled. 

“How does the Minneapolis City Council plan in the future to retain some measure of control over what happens within our own borders and prevent the suburbs from simply commandeering the use of our land?” asked Mary Pattock, who lives near the proposed line in Minneapolis.

Pattock also asked city leaders to demand that the environmental impact statement for the project be completed before they cast their final vote on the project on Aug. 29. There is no environmental impact statement for the project as it is now proposed, which state law requires as one of the items city leaders must consider before they vote on the question of municipal consent.

The new alignment for the Minneapolis portion of the line would eliminate the shallow tunnel running through the Kenilworth Corridor north of the channel connecting Cedar Lake and Lake of the Isles. However, it would retain the shallow tunnel south of the channel and add the station at 21st Street that was previously dropped from the plan. 

The bicycle and pedestrian trails currently in the Kenilworth Corridor would be restored following construction.

The plan also calls for the freight line currently in the Kenilworth Corridor to remain, but with public ownership of the land under the freight tracks. In earlier plans, the city was promised that the freight trains would be relocated.

Public ownership of the line will prevent Twin Cities and Western Railroad, currently the only user of the freight tracks, from leasing the tracks to other carriers, but it will allow the railroad to expand the number of trains it runs — and to move hazardous material through the area.

“The costs to be born by our city and our residents are high,” said Mayor Betsy Hodges prior to the public hearing. “Freight was to be removed. Against our objections it remains, so our support comes with sacrifice.”

“I understand why people are disappointed and I understand why people object; they are raising the same questions and objections we have been raising,” said Hodges. “We were called upon to move forward and this is the most responsible way to move forward for the city and the project.”

Elimination of the tunnel north of the channel cut the cost of the project by $60 million, with half of that savings to be spent on enhancements to the five stations planned for Minneapolis and to restore any damage to the Kenilworth Corridor done during construction. That moves the cost of the project from $1.683 billion to $1.653 billion.

A group of north Minneapolis workers arrived in hard hats and safety vests to make a point in favor of the construction jobs the light rail might provide.

“I normally carry a 1935 planning map that shows a designation for north Minneapolis,” said Louis King, CEO of Summit Academy in Minneapolis, which trains workers for jobs in construction and health care. He said his 1935 map designates north Minneapolis as a slum. “Eighty years later, nothing has changed.”

Southwest LRT panel
MinnPost photo by Karen Boros
“I understand why people are disappointed and I understand why people object; they are raising the same questions and objections we have been raising,” said Mayor Hodges, third from the right.

 

The West Lake Station, just west of the Lake Street-Excelsior split, will probably become the most used station in Minneapolis. Trains headed downtown from this station will tunnel under the busy intersection at Cedar Lake Parkway and emerge just before reaching the channel between the lakes.

In contrast, the 21st Street Station, adjacent to the Cedar Lake swimming area previously known as Hidden Beach, is expected to be used by few city riders, but will be accessible by bus for those living just south of downtown.

“We believe this package, as a whole, is a better resolution in the need to protect residents, parkland and our city waters,” said Peter Wagenius, policy director for Hodges. “The city never viewed the shallow tunnels as a gift.”

“I do not support Southwest Light Rail as it is currently proposed,” said Michael Cooney of Minneapolis, who called the project “excessively” expensive. “It is a poor solution to our transit development. It’s not routed, currently, where the population exists.”

“It appears to me, and I think you guys have been dealt a tough hand here, that we’re adopting a solution because we have to secure our federal funding,” said Cooney. “I think that leads to some of the worst decisions, an example would be the Kmart decision of some years ago.”

The new plan came following closed-door mediation sessions between the Metropolitan Council and city leaders and staff. The plan arrived just a few days short of what had been the deadline for Minneapolis leaders to vote on the question of municipal consent, which is required by state law before the project moves forward.

Five cities along the route, and Hennepin County, had until July 14 to vote on the matter. That deadline remains for all but Minneapolis, which will now face a Aug. 29 deadline for a vote. A public hearing on the matter is scheduled for Aug. 19 in Minneapolis.

Minnetonka, Hopkins and Hennepin County have already approved the plan. St. Louis Park and Eden Prairie are expected to vote by the Monday deadline.

“If the Southwest Light Rail project is not approved it will most likely be mothballed and abandoned,” said Gerald Savage of Minneapolis, who predicted the city will lose its status as a transportation hub if the project does not go forward.

“The prudent thing to do is to focus on the majority of the property owners and not just the .01 percent in Kenilworth,” said Savage. 

Hodges said she will be asking City Council Members to join her in support of the new plan for Southwest Light Rail Transit. 

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Comments (19)

New Southwest LRT plan lauded and lambasted at public meetin/

I've read this article twice, and I do not see the following:

Where the meeting took place
When the meeting took place

Nice photo, though.

Mark Peterson

Location location location

Mark,

Right or wrong I think the author assumes you've read one of the other recent article here on Minnpost that contain that information. I'm doing my part in driving you towards more reading by withholding that info in my comment here.

By the way, I'm a Lauder.

The West Lake Station would have existed on either route

Riders at the West Lake Station is irrelevant in comparing Kenilworth and the Greenway-Nicollet alignments. The station would have existed on either routing of SWLRT.

South Minneapolis

One of the reasons the Kenilworth alignment is attractive for SWLRT is that it allows the Midtown LRT to go forward. That coupled with the Nicollet streetcar brings the exact same rail alignment that SWLRT would have done, albeit with one transfer. Plus Midtown rail extends to the Blue Line at Lake St. and the enhanced bus portion extends all the way to Snelling & University in St. Paul. That's a boatload of high-quality transit infrastructure serving a large transit-dependent population. It couldn't do that with a Greenway aligned SWLRT. With the current plans, Minneapolis gets two large transit-dependent populations served by rail transit instead of just one.

Rail going up Hennepin is pretty tough due to the Lowry tunnel. I doubt we'll see it in our lifetimes.

Jeremy

"Also true that Minneapolitans bristle at the sight of folks plowing into town for Vikings games, for example, and engaging in base behavior (public intoxication, aggressive driving). Not all influx of capital and people is always welcome, nor does our local economy being based on entertainment and similar services seem like a long-term viable option. Minneapolitans don't need more bartenders, they need more green grocers, cobblers, and so on. "

Yes Jeremy, I understand you like to keep the riff raff out. Do you actually imagine that this refutes my charge of elite NIMBYism? On the contrary, I'm afraid you're confirming my charge sir.

Your problem is that the city of MPLS has neither the population nor the tax base to exist without revenue from the unclean masses beyond its borders. For instance 70% of your inner city transit is paid for with county money. Your stadiums and arenas are mostly financed by State and/county, and close to 50% of your revamp of Nicolette Mall will be state bonding money. I could go on but I'm sure I've made my point. You may not need riff raff revenue in your neighborhood, but the city can't function or prosper without it.

Someone here claimed that there would be no transit development in MPLS, sheesh your entire Downtown is transit development!

Buy the way, the good citizens of MPLS are not so much more well behaved than their suburban cousins as you may think. The majority of trouble makers Downtown ride on city buses, and arrive from other parts of the city. If you don't like the kinds of folks that show up Downtown, one can always move to the suburbs.

Anyways what goes around comes around, for years Bloomington complained about the inner city riff raff being transported to the MOA on the blue line. Such complaints don't reflect well on anyone, and they certainly don't make good public policy.

As for the location of the line, please read David Green's comments. The Green line is part of a SYSTEM, there are extensive plans under way to guarantee it accessibility and necessary changes can always be implemented in the future if need be.

How will the 21st Stop be accessible by bus?

"In contrast, the 21st Street Station, adjacent to the Cedar Lake swimming area previously known as Hidden Beach, is expected to be used by few city riders, but will be accessible by bus for those living just south of downtown."

How exactly will this stop be accessible by bus? Can someone explain how buses would navigate to the 21st stop and who would bother riding a bus there?

#2

The #2 or some moral equivalent will be extended along Franklin to 21st, I assume.

Would that work?

Extending the #2 to Kenwood Park and school would be great, but I am not sure the local streets are wide enough to allow bus service to the LRT stop.

The #2 could come west on Franklin, around Lake of the Isles, left on Penn and right on 21st Street to the new station. A challenging route for a City bus. Once the bus gets to the LRT stop it will need a bus turn-around, otherwise the bus is never getting back to Franklin.

I don't see that in the new map showing the 21st Street stop, although it does show an "enhanced pedestrian connection" allowing people to canoe (or swim) to the new stop on Cedar Lake. You can't make this stuff up - take a look at the path to the lakeshore:
http://www.southwestjournal.com/news/sw-lrt-update/details-of-southwest-...

Bus Realignment

It's a good question about the route. Bus realignment planning happens a lot later, when the line is being constructed. It's one of the last bits of planning to happen on a project like this.

I'm assuming the #2. It doesn't have to be. But one of the reasons the city wanted the station back is that it heard from the E. Franklin Native American community that they wanted the station for access to jobs and services. So some kind of connection to the #2 seems probable.

Neal Gendler

The SW line was a mistake from the beginning, and Minneapolis development has only made it stupider.

Anyone who has watched the proliferation of apartment buildings (hundreds of units!) aimed at the young and moderately affluent on the east edge of Uptown and north of the Midtown Greenway should be able to see the folly of running the SW line through what amounts to a nature preserve surrounded by one of the lowest population-density areas of Minneapolis.

The Midtown "Greenway" *is* a railroad trench, one that used to serve business on either side of it. Thousands of Minneapolitans live within a few blocks of it or almost on top of it. It's also pretty wide -- certainly enough for two rail lines (you can see where they were) and maybe still a bikeway, too. A turn toward downtown Minneapolis could be made just south of 28th Street (K-Mart site, anyone?) and the rail sent north along Nicollet where Minneapolis now wants a trolley.

I have no idea whether the Met Council ever gave serious consideration to using what for decades had been a freight-rail corridor. Or if the council ever seriously thought of running a commuter line west, just south of I-394 where there is *another*(!) rail corridor out of downtown, one still in use by (I think) BNSF, with at least one now-trackless rail line next to the existing tracks.

So-called rich people aside (and they're not all rich -- even I used to live there), the planned SW corridor appears to be the least beneficial and the most risky (a tunnel between two lakes and a very busy at-grade crossing) of three possibilities.

In return for the SWLRT, Minneapolis was promised removal of the freight line. The freight line refuses to move and apparently under federal law can't be forced to move, so Minneapolis' initial agreement should be null and void.

Midtown

The Greenway trench was looked at for SWLRT and deemed infeasible, primarily due to the turn north and grade differential to get onto Nicollet.

The Greenway will get the Midtown LRT line which will connect to SWLRT, the Nicollet streetcar and the Blue Line. This was we can serve two transit-dependent areas of Minneapolis with rail (North and South-central/East Lake). If SWLRT followed the greeway it wouldn't serve South-central/East Lake as well and we couldn't have a Nicollet streetcar.

A turn north on Hennepin was also looked at and reject due either to the grade differential or, more likely, trouble with the Lowry Tunnel.

SWLRT + Midtown will provide exactly the same rail alignment that an Uptown-routed SWLRT would have provided and Minneapolis gets more areas served by rail transit. Seems like a win to me.

Midtown greenway

The midtown green way was an option. The reason the current alignment was chosen is it was initially cheaper and believed to be easier to build. I do not think the opposition was expected from the planners that chose this route.

Now this projects cost has ballooned and the planning is being recklessly thrown together to meet a deadline for federal funding. Projects like this happen all the time. To many it is free money since it comes from the federal government but that is an discussion for another time. What concerns me is how we are going to fund street cars to take riders from dense areas of the city into the woods to get on the train.

Neal is absolutely correct in pointing out this project avoids the dense areas that would ride the train. I lived in Uptown for several years and rode public transportation at that time. I would not have taken a bus west to Calhoun Village to go downtown via a train. I would just take a bus downtown for a faster more convenient trip.

Uptown Buses

You're correct about taking the bus downtown. The ridership studies of a SWLRT Uptown alignment showed that people in Uptown would prefer to take the bus. Say you're going to 7th & Hennepin and live near Hennepin and 26th. You're not going to walk south 3-4 blocks to hop a train that takes you to 7th and Nicollet. You're going to take the #6 from 26th & Hennepin to 7th & Hennepin.

In addition to being technically challenging, an Uptown-routed SWLRT would be duplicative of existing transit service. The ridership figures didn't justify it.

Not what you said above

David,

Your comment above was "SWLRT + Midtown will provide exactly the same rail alignment that an Uptown-routed SWLRT would have provided[.]"

Now you are saying people would rather ride the bus?

The study you reference did not show people did not want to ride the train instead of a bus - it showed not enough new riders would ride the train - the Feds didn't count those who moved from bus to train transit transit riders in evaluating the Greenway-Nicollet alignment over the Kenilworth alignment. Those rules have since changed, so the analysis today would likely swing the other way.

Sure the person at Hennepin and 26th doesn't get a great advantage from a LRT stop along the Greenway, but move east on 26th Street and the analysis changes - instead of walking to Hennepin for a bus they could have walked to the Greenway and the LRT would have gotten them downtown faster.

There is no contest for the thousands of new apartment residents between Lake Street and the Greenway who would have preferred the Greenway SWLRT alignment - that LRT alignment would have given them a single seat trip to downtown on a fast grade separated train.

Midtown

The Midtown LRT extends past Nicollet. It serves more of South Minneapolis. That's why it has better ridership. The Nicollet streetcar will extend beyond Lake Street (though not initially). They provide the same alignment as SWLRT 3C but it's not the same service. It's more extensive.

The metrics from the FTA haven't changed. What's changed is that cost-effectiveness index (CEI) is no longer a pass-fail, land use is more important and serving transit-dependent populations is much more important (there's a ridership multiplier for every transit-dependent rider). It is entirely possible, if not probable, that the new rules would strengthen the Kenilworth alignment over the Greenway alignment.

The rules have never counted "new riders" as anything special. The CEI calculates cost per hour saved per rider. Uptown didn't score well because taking a slow LRT down Nicollet isn't really any better than taking a slow bus down Hennepin and can be worse if your destination is Hennepin instead of Nicollet.

Moving east on 26th, riders would take the #4 or #17 or #18.

As for development, FTA rules don't allow for speculating ridership on speculative (at the time) development projects. The Kenilworth score was hurt too because it didn't consider development at Van White and Royalston. Furthermore, all of those new Uptown residents have bus service pretty much equivalent to what they'd have with SWLRT in the Greenway. It's just not a winner for those folks.

An assumption

David, you are assuming that most of the young folks in those Uptown-area apartments work in downtown Minneapolis. I don't think that's a safe assumption.
The experience of my mechanical-engineer son as that many such jobs, ones demanding various forms of non-medical professional education (and even some of those), are in suburbs. Of the four jobs he's had since graduation a few years ago, one was in the fringe of downtown St. Paul, one was in Eden Prairie, one was in Chanhassen and the current one is in Plymouth. That's a lot of driving, and riding buses is somewhere between impractical and impossible.
BTW, he does not live in Uptown.

nmg

Suburbs

Yep, I totally believe a lot of those folks work in the suburbs. Midtown LRT + SWLRT will get them there just as fast as a Greenway-routed SWLRT. They'll connect at the West Lake station.

There's just no scenario in which SWLRT in the Greenway beats SWLRT + Midtown LRT, at least not enough to forfeit rail transit in other parts of the city.

Midtwon LRT?

David,

What exactly are you talking about? My understanding was that something like a streetcar was envisioned for the greenway, or is there some other midtown alignment in the works?