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Minneapolis likes Southwest light rail concept but not the current plan

The city doesn’t like the idea of putting freight trains, light rail and recreational trails together in the Kenilworth corridor.

The City of Minneapolis moved a step closer to expanding light rail service in the city by endorsing the Southwest Light Rail Line.
Courtesy of MnDOT

Nobody wants the freight trains.

The City of Minneapolis moved a step closer to endorsing the Southwest Light Rail Line but will not accept a plan (PDF)  that includes freight trains, light rail and the recreational trails running through the relatively narrow strip of land known as the Kenilworth Corridor. 

The plan to move the freight trains, which currently travel through the Kenilworth Corridor, to a line through St. Louis Park is being strongly opposed by citizens in that community.

“The freight trains will have to be relocated to St. Louis Park,” said Donald Pflaum, a transportation planner from the Minneapolis Public Works Department, as he explained the city’s position on the Draft Environmental Impact Statement for the project to members of the City Council’s Transportation and Public Works Committee.

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Any plan that places freight trains, light rail and recreational trails in the Kenilworth corridor “will not be accepted by the City of Minneapolis as part of the municipal consent process,” according to the official comments that will be submitted to the Federal Transit Administration.

“We see the trails as highways,” Pflaum told council members. The city position requires that the existing recreational trails be preserved and remain open during construction. The trails, which currently cover an area 20 feet wide, are used by 2,000 people a day. The city wants a width of at least 16 feet, rather than the idea of a 12-foot corridor.

The official city position also opposes the removal of private homes along the route and calls for minimal tree removal.

The city also rejects a proposed North Loop operations and maintenance facility for the light rail line. It says the structure would not be “consistent with existing land uses, future land use direction or existing zoning.”

Minneapolis disagrees, too, with proposed park-and-ride facilities, saying they encourage car use “when a primary purpose for Light Rail Transit is to promote alternatives to driving.”

The city proposal also states that the traction power substations and signal bungalows along the route should not interfere with the “visual or aesthetic” quality of a neighborhood and should not interfere with potential development.

The substations are expected to stand 10 to 11 feet high and be as long as 45 feet. The signal bungalows would be the same height but less than half the length.

Decisions on a bridge where Cedar Lake Parkway crosses the rail line have been delayed, Pflaum told council members. He also said a proposed tunnel will not work at Seventh Street near downtown and quite likely would be replaced by a bridge.

Minneapolis does endorse all five proposed Minneapolis train stations.

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“The Royalston Station, close to downtown, has a lot of potential,” Pflaum said but cautioned, “We have some very successful businesses in that area and we don’t want them to suffer during construction.”

Potential shoppers at the Royalston stop also would have access to the Minneapolis Farmers’ Market, but it would require a multiple-block walk.

The next stop heading south is the Van White Station, which would give riders access to Dunwoody College of Technology and the Walker Art Center. The challenge here would be supplying police and firefighter access to the area.

The Penn Station, at 394 and Penn Avenue, would need vertical access because the station will be located below street level adjacent to the Cedar Lake Trails. The challenge there will be making it “connect to the neighborhoods,” he said.

The challenge at the 21st Street Station would be curtailing tree loss in what Pflaum describes as a “park-like setting.” This station would be within a block of Cedar Lake and adjacent to recreation trails in a neighborhood of single-family homes.

The Lake Street Station has the greatest potential for development, according to Pflaum. It is also the station expected to attract riders early. The Metropolitan Council is considering a streetcar link between the station and the Midtown Greenway.

The comments, as outlined by Pflaum, were approved by committee members and are expected to be approved by the full council a week from Friday. Those comments are then forwarded to the Metropolitan Council, which, along with the Federal Transit Administration, will provide responses in the Final Environmental Impact Statement.

If approved and funded, the Southwest Light Rail Line is scheduled to begin operations in 2018.

Prime development site

The old Nicollet Hotel site — and the entire block across the street from the Minneapolis Central Library — will soon be available for development. Or maybe for a park.

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Minneapolis acquired the land in 1993 for $2.6 million through federal grant funds that were tied to a larger grant for mass transit with alternative-fuel buses. The block is currently used for surface parking and as a bus layover station. 

“There are higher and better uses for that property,” said Steve Kotke, city engineer and director of Public Works.

The buses will be moved to the ground level of the Gateway Parking Ramp. The surface parking could continue until another use is found for the property,

Mattresses at the curb

The new system Minneapolis is using to dispose of used mattresses is apparently working but not without problems.

If you drag your old mattress to the curb on garbage day bjut it’s not  also a recycling day, your mattress will not get picked up, as it would have with the old system.

What your old mattress will get is a sticker telling you to drag it back to wherever it was and wait until next week.

“We’re now dealing with mattresses as a problem material,” said Dave Herberholz, director of Solid Waste and Recycling for the Public Works Department. “It’s working relatively well.”

The old system was scrapped when Hennepin County, which owns the garbage burner, decided to stop accepting mattresses.

Minneapolis then awarded the mattress collection contract to Project Pride in Living, which has been doing the pickups since late July. Since then, 11,633 mattresses, or 326 tons, have been picked up. About 66 percent of that material is recycled, according to Herberholz.

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Council nixes more parking

The Minneapolis Public Schools’ plan to add 150 surface parking spots adjacent to the Davis Center on West Broadway has been rejected by members of the Zoning and Planning Committee. 

“The idea of another block that is hard-surface parking just drives me crazy,” said Council Member Meg Tuthill, who voted against the additional parking.

MPS already has 490 surface parking spots at its new headquarters but said they needed more because the location also houses an education and service center with lots of visitors on workdays.

A system using bus passes as an alternative to driving has been suggested but not implemented.

Council Member Cam Gordon suggested the idea of a parking ramp, but Mark Bollinger of MPS said the option was too costly.