Residents weigh in as Met Council nears key decisions for SW light rail line

Proposed Southwest LRT route map
This map shows the proposed route of the Southwest light rail transit line. Click on the map to enlarge.
Courtesy Metropolitan Council

Some Minneapolis residents who live near a proposed light rail line are becoming increasingly worried as the Metropolitan Council gets closer to making crucial decisions.

This week, the Met Council will present a set of cost estimates for the Southwest light rail line at a pair of public meetings. And some fear one cost of the new light rail line will be the degradation of valuable trails and park land.

Residents showed up in droves at an open house meeting at the Kenwood Community Center in southwest Minneapolis last month, to see where the Met Council is planning to locate light rail stations along the 15-mile line. The Southwest line will run through Minneapolis, St. Louis Park, Hopkins, Minnetonka and Eden Prairie.

Some people who came to the meeting expressed mild concerns over the station locations. Minneapolis resident Roy Williams said having a light rail station just down the block from his home poses something of a nuisance.

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"The only issue that I really have is the noise and the lights from the station itself," Williams said. "It's basically a 24-hour operation - almost. Every time the trains stop and go now they're ringing those darn bells -- ding dong -- and how that disturbs the neighbors that are close."

Minneapolis resident Tom Quandt lives along the planned light rail route in a townhouse next to the Cedar Lake Trail and freight train tracks. However, there's not enough room to fit freight rail, light rail and the Cedar Lake Trail next to his townhouse. So if the Met Council decides to co-locate the light and heavy rail trains next to each other, something's got to go - and that will be his townhome. The Met Council is also planning to put a light rail station nearby.

"Let's say they don't co-locate and I'm still there." Quandt said. "I've got a station right in front of my house, and I've got 20 hours of trains coming and going past my house every night. I don't want it."

Quandt said he does not oppose having light rail trains run past his house. The trains are relatively quiet while they run; he said they make the most noise when they stop and go.

The Met Council has proposed eight options to address this pinch point along the corridor. Two of those options would spare Quandt's home and about 60 other Minneapolis properties -- most of which are located in the complex where Quandt lives -- by relocating the freight lines through St. Louis Park.

Light rail open house
Residents attend an open house for the future Southwest light rail line on Monday, June 24, 2013, at the Kenwood Community Center in southwest Minneapolis.
MPR Photo/Brandt Williams

However, those options are strongly opposed by residents of St. Louis Park -- especially those who will lose property or have trains running past their homes. Met Council officials say 32 to 46 properties could be taken in St. Louis Park under the relocation plans.

All eight options would run the Southwest light rail line through sections of Minneapolis that contain bicycle and walking paths used by tens of thousands of people every year. And that worries Minneapolis resident Leila Brammer.

Brammer rides her bike along one of those trails nearly every day.

"Kenilworth Trail, I think, is one of the best trails, probably in the nation, as far as beauty," she said.

The one-and-a-half mile trail connects the Cedar Lake Trail to the Midtown Greenway and leads bicyclists and walkers past tall native grasses and under a leafy green canopy.

The freight trains already run along the trail several times a day, Brammer said.

"Having the freight rail already detracts from that," Brammer said. "That's already disrupting the environment in a way that is difficult for the people who live along it, but I'm sure difficult also for the nature and animals who live along the trail as well."

The Met Council is considering plans to run the light rail tracks underground through the corridor, an option Minneapolis resident Sacha Walser favors. However, she doubts the Met Council will pick that one because it will cost too much. Walser said the Met Council should consider rerouting the light rail line through a more commercial area.

"If freight can't be moved, and I understand St. Louis Park residents' concerns about that, totally, then I think we have to look at moving that little part of the route -- and moving it out to Lake Street, where people live," Walser said. "Because not a lot of people live in the park."

But that option is not on the table. Mark Fuhrman, Met Council program director for Rail New Starts, said that proposal was rejected long ago because of high costs and logistical problems.

Fuhrman said the Met Council has received a lot of feedback from the more than 300 people who attended open house meetings in June. Many expressed concerns over losing their homes or businesses, he said.

"We also heard the desire to try to preserve the Kenilworth corridor as much as possible," Fuhrman said. "It's a tremendous regional asset."

The idea of building tunnels for the light rail line was inspired by feedback from people worried about the environmental impact on the corridor, Fuhrman said.

He said the Met Council is also considering building elevated tracks for the light rail line or elevating the bicycle and walking trails, adding that the estimated cost of each option will be revealed at two public meetings this week.

Building tunnels is more expensive than elevating tracks, Fuhrman said, adding that members of the Met Council will not necessarily choose the least expensive option. He said they will consider a list of 13 criteria when making their decision; cost is at the top of the list, but members of the council will also consider whether the option they choose will increase ridership, help leverage private development and help increase the use of other modes of public transportation.

However, Fuhrman said there will be more opportunities for residents to weigh in on the options until the end of August, when the council is expected to make a final decision.