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Met Council offers to meet with Minneapolis Park Board to resolve Kenilworth Corridor dispute

The park board thinks a larger bridge would be disruptive to the pastoral setting of the Kenilworth Channel.

Metropolitan Council staff members planning the Southwest light rail project have offered to meet with commissioners of the Minneapolis Park Board to talk about a dispute that could delay the $1.6 billion project, which would extend the Green Line from downtown Minneapolis to Eden Prairie.

The offer came via a letter this week from Metropolitan Council regional administrator Patrick Born to park board superintendent Jayne Miller, and arrived on the eve of the park board hiring engineers to further its challenge of a key element of the 16-mile route — namely, how the light rail track crosses the historic Kenilworth Channel that connects Cedar Lake to Lake of the Isles.

“This letter confirms our offer to hold a workshop with the Park Board and other interested government partners to gain understanding of the issues relating to the alternatives to the design of the channel crossing in the Kenilworth Corridor,” Born wrote. “We consider a workshop to be an ideal way to exchange information and ideas in a collaborative manner to address the issues that should be considered for the design of the Green Line Extension.

“We are open to discussing how a workshop can be designed and planned.”

The approved alignment for the extension calls for the co-location of existing freight trains and a pedestrian and bike path with the new light rail tracks through the corridor, which would require a larger bridge over the channel.

The park board thinks a larger bridge would be disruptive to the area’s pastoral setting, and has been advised by lawyers that it has special standing under a federal law that prohibits the taking of parkland for federally funded transportation projects. A route that impacts parkland may only be funded if it is the only “prudent and feasible” option.

The board wants a tunnel beneath the channel rather than a bridge over it — which could add between $30 million and $75 million to the cost of the project, depending on which estimates are used.

Liz Wielinski

The park board voted Wednesday to hire an engineering team led by Brierley Associates, a national firm with offices in Burnsville. The $245,000 contract calls on the team to study whether it is even feasible to build a shallow tunnel beneath the channel. “We need to find out if it can be done,” Board President Liz Wielinski said Wednesday. “It might not be, but we need to know that.”

If the engineering firm concludes that it is, the next phase of study would be to determine if it is prudent, a calculation mostly dependent on how much it would cost. “If it’s gonna cost $3 billion to be done, that’s not prudent,” Wielinski said. “We aren’t going to push that.”

Before the board approved the contract, however, there was a discussion over what one board member called “chatter going on in the community” that the Met Council had offered to meet to discuss the conflict, and that the board staff had rejected the offer.

Miller confirmed the conversations and the letter, but Wielinski said she had subsequent conversations with a Met Council board member and a Hennepin County commissioner who told her that if the board went ahead and hired consultants, the offer to meet would be withdrawn.

Via email, Met Council member Adam Duininck said that he did speak with Wielinski to “renew/reinforce the offer to have more conversations at a policymaker level between CMs [Met Council members] and Park Commissioners.” He said he did not set any conditions on those meetings but did ask Wielinski to hold off on the decision to hire the independent consultants, but that she declined.

Wielinski said at the Wednesday board meeting that while the park board has good staff, none are civil engineers. “We’d be going into a conversation with the Met Council with their boatload of engineers,” Wielinski said. “I thought that if we could have our engineers it would be a much-more-level playing field.”

On Thursday, Wielinski said the Met Council staff told her they are now willing to meet regardless of the board’s decision to hire Brierley.

Comments (7)

  1. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 11/21/2014 - 10:55 am.

    Meeting eh?

    I suspect the function of this meeting will be to explain to the Park Board, as was explained to the City Council before it, that the tunnels, especially the shallow tunnel option, have already been studied and rejected for a variety of reasons. If the Park Board wants to waste hundreds of thousands of dollars the Met Council can’t stop them, but unless the Park Board is going to pay for those tunnels it’s not going to happen. The Met Council might be interested in avoiding delays but they’re not going to dump $70 million into an unnecessary design feature at this point… is my guess.

    By the way, it’s not clear how much money the cash strapped Park Board is actually dumping into this? I know they already set aside $500K for potential legal bills, but is $250k “study” coming out THAT budget or is it just an additional $250k? Is the Park Board really looking at spending almost a million bucks on this?

    At any rate, at some point the Board is going to have to explain exactly what it’s concern is? They have an artificial channel with limited public access; how exactly does a new bridge with LR cause $70 million worth of “damage” to the channel? Are we worried that a Kayaker who happens to be paddling through the channel is going see a LR train once and while? Is THAT really grounds for a lawsuit?

  2. Submitted by Wayne Coppock on 11/21/2014 - 01:34 pm.

    A train through the woods is not the only “prudent and feasible” option available. There was a perfectly good option that was dismissed due to faulty assumptions and calculations and never re-examined that would very likely be cost-competitive on a per-rider basis with this debacle if it were properly calculated today with the current standards. The 3C routing should have been selected from the start, but the constant resistance to even reconsidering this in light of the flawed process by which it was eliminated is mind-blowing.

    Why don’t we go ahead and still build that connection between 94 and 35W through northeast Minneapolis? We can just re-bulldoze the path that’s now full of condos and townhouses, because some planner at some point in the past decided it should be built we have to stick by that flawed decision now, right? It doesn’t matter if it makes no sense by today’s standards, planning decisions are (apparently) forever!

  3. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 11/21/2014 - 02:37 pm.

    Prudent and feasable

    No one said this was the ONLY prudent and feasible option, it’s the the prudent and feasible options that was chosen. Why compare a route that runs in an existing rail corridor and requires no property demolition to a old highway plan that would tear down condos and townhomes?

    What’s so “flawed” about a plan to use an existing rail corridor that the county already owns? And what does any of this have to do with the Park Board?

    • Submitted by Wayne Coppock on 11/21/2014 - 03:23 pm.

      Also, if you’re all for using historic rail ROW that’s now government owned and in parkland for transit, let’s just build lines up and down the waterfront while we’re at it. We can fit light rail, bikes and pedestrians on the stone arch bridge, right? Or do we need to tunnel under the falls for that one to work?

      My point is that it was a dumb idea to buy some old rail ROW and expect to magically turn it into a functional transit corridor just because it had some completely different kind of trains (with different functional requirements) there before. They obviously never did any reasonable amount of due-diligence for this plan, which can be seen in the huge debacle of how they assumed they could move the freight traffic without ever actually looking into the matter. Why bad decision-making is so tirelessly defended, I will never know.

  4. Submitted by Wayne Coppock on 11/21/2014 - 03:18 pm.

    The fact that the ‘existing rail corridor’ currently contains one set of tracks and is used for infrequent (and relatively slow!) freight movement does not make it an optimal routing to suddenly include dual-tracked frequent mass transit service AND still maintain the existing freight service. If you think any old rail corridor is good enough for mass transit, there’s plenty of empty land out in farm country you could put lines on too, but no one thinks that’s a good idea.

    Often times areas around rail ROW is underutilized and marginal, either because of access issues or industrial pollution (in this case it’s the former). This ROW was never used for anything resembling intra-city transit service, and pretending like it’s optimal for such a thing ‘because trains’ doesn’t make much sense. Transit needs to go where people need to go–areas with destinations such as stores, jobs, entertainment or high density residential uses. Sometimes transit is built along rail corridors with the expectation of redevelopment of that marginal land, but in this case there is zero chance of that amounting to anything because the areas it passes through are mostly parkland and have natural barriers like lakes and cliffs that prevent development from coming down to meet the line.

  5. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 11/22/2014 - 09:08 am.

    Re-writing history or just making flawed assumptions?

    Here’s another fact: There are no tracks at all of any kind running down Lynndale or Nicollet Ave, either above or below the ground. Why put track where a different kind of tracks currently are when we could put tracks where no tracks of any kind currently are? Why put tracks in a corridor that’s already got tracks instead of running them down or under city streets? Why put tracks on land that’s already publicly owned and has ample space? Why choose a route that won’t require any demolition of private property and housing? Hmmmm. Got me there. This all sounds sooooo “dumb” when you think about it?

    The planners of this route not only did their due diligence (which is why despite MPLS games it’s still on track so to speak), but they also examined other routes. That land was already publicly owned when the planning began, they didn’t buy the land and expect “magic” to LR to appear.

    “Sometimes transit is built along rail corridors with the expectation of redevelopment of that marginal land, but in this case there is zero chance of that amounting to anything because the areas it passes through are mostly parkland and have natural barriers like lakes and cliffs that prevent development from coming down to meet the line.”

    The Kenilworth corridor is NOT parkland so the comparison with running tracks along the river parkways is just as goofy the comparison with old highway plans. The ONLY part of the Keniworth corridor the Park Board can claim any interest in is the water in the channel.

    As for transit development along the line, “sometimes” there are sections any transit system devoid of transit development. You don’t see development alongside bridges, or the Blue Line tunnel under the airport, or the subway tunnels of Boston or New York, that doesn’t mean the route was poorly chosen, it just means that you have sections of the line that connect to other sections of the line… that’s what the Kenilworth section is. Remember, this is a 12 mile long line. No one ever expected TRD in the Kenilworth corridor itself. but TRD is already taking place along the planned route in St. Louis Park.

    Just because some people don’t “like” this alignment doesn’t make it stupid or unfeasible. The fact is this route makes a lot of sense and will work just fine if not better than many alternatives. Claims that the route was just thrown together without research or investigation, or due diligence, etc. defy historical facts. This route was actually an intelligent and responsible choice. People who think that running light rail down or under Lyndale or Nicollet to the Greenway would be more “feasible” simply don’t understand the conditions of feasibility we’re actually working with here.

    Just one last point about the nature of the Keniworth corridor. I keep pointing out the fact that is a 100 year old rail corridor. You can pretend that’s irrelevant if you want, but the FACT is that at times there was far more rail traffic in that corridor than we’ll ever see again. Those bridges you ride over on your bike were not built for bike traffic, there used to be 4-6 tracks running back there. Most of that land along side the tracks was commercial property, if you walk along the bluff you can still see traces of foundations and floors. The point is that in all that time given all that rail and commercial activity… the lakes were never adversely affected. So why would you expect new LR lines built to modern standards will somehow “damage” the lakes or the channel?

  6. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 11/22/2014 - 10:04 am.

    Eminent Domain?

    I wonder if the Henn Co. or the State could use eminent domain to “take” the channel away from the MPLS Park Board? The legal fees for that would certainly be less than $70 million. Originally the channel and the lakes themselves didn’t belong to MPLS or the Park Board, that was transferred to them back in the 70s or 80s I think. Maybe taking them back wouldn’t be that difficult or expensive? Without the channel the PB would have no standing to challenge the new bridges.

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