The Minneapolis City Council today told planners of the Southwest Corridor light rail project to find a way to divert freight rail traffic from a popular city biking corridor.
By a unanimous vote, the council passed a resolution that opposes a plan to bury light rail trains in shallow tunnels along the Kenilworth Corridor. Council members approved it even though Hennepin County Commissioner Peter McLaughlin reminded them that the $1.5 billion project was at a delicate moment — one that could lead to catastrophe without Minneapolis' support.
That prompted a stern response from Council Member Lisa Goodman.
"So now all of a sudden we're being asked to sit quietly through a delicate moment, when you slam this out of the ballpark and shove it down our throats," Goodman said. "So what is delicate about this moment?"
In response, McLaughlin said, "The delicacy is this line could be killed."
The Metropolitan Council is seeking the approval of all five cities touching the proposed Southwest line, as is required by state law. But it's not clear if the cities must consent for the project to move forward.
Minneapolis isn't the only city balking. St. Louis Park Mayor Jeff Jacobs has indicated his city would withhold its approval for the project if the Kenilworth freight trains are diverted through his town.
"It will be difficult for the St. Louis Park City Council to see a path forward to municipal consent," Jacobs said at a town hall meeting Feb. 12 hosted by the Metropolitan Council. "And by difficult, I mean the level of difficulty that you might have playing the Hungarian Rhapsody on the piano with a broken hand."
The Met Council is expected to vote next month on how to resolve the impasse.
The latest figures from the regional planning agency estimate that the costs of building shallow tunnels are not far from an alternative plan to divert the freight to St. Louis Park. The tunnels would cost $235 million to $250 million, while a re-route plan proposed by outside consultant TranSystems would cost $220 million to $240 million.
"St. Louis Park was very quick to say 'no' to relocation, the new proposal that's out. But it's a genuine proposal, and the Met Council, the county, and the cities should be pursuing that option to find out how workable it really is," said Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges.
A project spokeswoman with the Met Council said any City Council resolution taking a position on Southwest LRT is "premature." Met Council staff members are expected to make their recommendations to the full regional council in April.
When finished, the southwest line will run 15.8 miles from Target Field Station in Minneapolis through St. Louis Park, Hopkins, Minnetonka and Eden Prairie. By 2030, 30,000 rides are expected every weekday, on average.