Recommendation on Southwest light rail project expected Wednesday

Southwest LRT
Some Minneapolis residents with the group LRT Done Right oppose a plan to co-locate both light rail and freight traffic along the Kenilworth corridor that currently is used by bicyclists and pedestrians, as well as freight trains. This photograph shows one of the "pinch points" along the trail where townhomes are close to the train tracks Tuesday, Aug. 13, 2013. An advisory committee for the Southwest light rail project on Wednesday will recommend a way to resolve the longstanding dispute that is threatening the future of the line.
MPR Photo/Jennifer Simonson

An advisory committee for the Southwest light rail project will recommend Wednesday a way to resolve a longstanding dispute that is threatening the future of the line.

The dilemma for Twin Cities leaders is what to do with existing freight rail traffic through the scenic Kenilworth Corridor of Minneapolis.

Much of the focus in recent weeks has been on a plan to keep the freight where it is and bury the light-rail trains in a shallow tunnel costing about $160 million.

An alternative calls for re-routing the freight traffic through St. Louis Park on berms as high as two stories tall. That plan, however, is more expensive than the tunnel and has drawn concerns from key officials involved with the project.

Timeline of the Southwest LRT freight rail debate

Government officials on the advisory Corridor Management Committee are also considering a number of cost-saving options, such ending the line early on the western end. The estimated price tag for the overall project has grown in recent months to nearly $1.7 billion at the high end.

To pare the project's costs, one idea is to kill a $60 million plan that involves moving freight rail track to the north of the corridor and build light-rail tracks on the southern end.

Mark Fuhrmann, director of light rail for the Metropolitan Council, said the rail swap grew out of discussions with communities touching the line.

"Those are where the primary transit-oriented-development opportunities reside in Hopkins and St. Louis Park," he said. "The best access and the most prime parcels for future transit-oriented development reside on the south side of the corridor."

Another proposal calls for shortening the shallow tunnel by about a half-mile, which would place the freight and passenger rail next to the bike and walking trails next to one another for that stretch. Eliminating the northern half of the tunnel would cut about $60 million from the overall project costs.

The committee is expected to recommend how to resolve the freight rail fracas, a targeted project budget amount, and potential scope reductions. The Metropolitan Council could vote on the issues as early as Oct. 9.

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