Met Council Chair Sue Haigh signaled Friday that she may be leaning in favor of a light rail route that would spare homes and a football field in St. Louis Park.
The development came near the end of an interview with Tom Weber on The Daily Circuit. They had been discussing problems with a section of the proposed Southwest light rail corridor, where a popular bike trail and a freight railway conflict with the project.
"What I am saying is, there is new information about the cost for this option, with these alternatives," Haigh said. "And we will refine those, based on what we've heard."
The council is considering eight different alternatives to accommodate the freight line. Two of them would move freight trains into occupied land in St. Louis Park, requiring the removal of homes and possibly an athletic field at St. Louis Park High School. That possibility has stirred strong opposition in St. Louis Park.
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Other alternatives would allow freight, light rail and the Kenilworth Bike Trail to coexist in a single corridor, or would require moving only the bike trail. Two options would dig tunnels for the LRT line — one shallow, one deep and much more expensive.
It was the shallow tunnel that Haigh singled out during the interview.
"I think one of the most promising ones is the Kenilworth shallow tunnel alternative," she said. "I think it is a more promising option than we believed before we got these cost estimates [for other options] and before we got to this level of alternatives analysis."
"What I was struck by was how it was so much less costly than the deep-bore tunnel," she said. "And I think the staff are going back and trying to refine that further, to try to make it a shorter tunnel."
Haigh cautioned that she was "absolutely not" committing herself to the shallow-tunnel option. But she added that in gathering citizen comments, as the council did at a hearing Thursday, "We heard a lot of testimony about, 'Don't take all those houses.' One of the ways to try to do that is to shorten the length of that tunnel. So the staff are listening to that and trying to go back and come up with an alternative that would do that."
Weber asked, "And that shallow tunnel option keeps the tracks and bike trail all over there? There's nothing going through St. Louis Park?"
Haigh: "That is correct."
But she made clear that she is not willing to go back to the drawing board to come up with entirely new options, such as routing the LRT along the Midtown Greenway.
"What's really important for this project," she said, is that it keep moving. "If we delay, if we abandon the current locally preferred alternative, what we will do is definitely add to the cost of this project. For projects of this magnitude, a year delay? Forty million dollar cost on this project."
And with the federal government providing half the funding, she said, the project mustn't risk losing its place in line.
"Our project is competing now with 12 projects around the country," she said. "If we delay, other projects are going to creep up and be ahead of us in the queue, and that's not good for the region either."
With the first shovelful of dirt yet to be turned, the price of the proposed light rail line went up this week by at least $120 million.
Under current plans, the line would travel nearly 16 miles and stop at 17 stations before connecting with the existing Hiawatha Line.
LEARN MORE ABOUT THE SOUTHWEST LIGHT RAIL LINE:
• Follow the route for the proposed line
• Southwest Corridor light-rail line costs soar
The cost of dealing with the freight will likely make the Southwest Corridor light-rail line the most expensive public works project in the Twin Cities. The head of transit development for the agency, Mark Fuhrmann, said Wednesday he isn't surprised by the cost of dealing with the freight. "Designing and building rail ... is pricey," he said. "It just comes with the territory." (Star Tribune)
• Southwest light rail costs are revised up
Relocating freight traffic to St. Louis Park would add up to $300 million to project's cost. Burying part of the light rail line could cost more than $400 million. The least-costly option would move a bike trail that currently runs along the freight line in Minneapolis. In all, engineers have developed eight options to keep Southwest light rail transit and freight rail lines from interfering with one another. (MPR News)