Mpls. park board ends fight over Southwest light rail

Light rail rendering
This artist rendering shows how the proposed Southwest light rail route would look to boaters at the bridge over the canal between Cedar Lake and Lake of the Isles.
Courtesy of the Metropolitan Council

Updated: 4:55 p.m. | Posted: 1 p.m.

The Minneapolis Park Board is dropping its objections to the Southwest Corridor light rail project, removing some of the legal uncertainty surrounding the most expensive transit project in state history.

Under the tentative agreement, the park board would end its quest to run the trains through a tunnel underneath the channel of water between Cedar Lake and Lake of the Isles.

Instead, it will go along with the Metropolitan Council's plan to use a bridge to cross the channel.

Once the board signs off on the deal, the Met Council would reimburse the park board for half the money it's spent on engineering work studying the tunnel option — up to $250,000.

The study found the tunnel could have added more than $100 million to the project's $1.65 billion price tag.

"It would have more disruptive and more costly, and more of a challenge, frankly, for the area," Met Council Chair Adam Duininck said of the tunnel.

Park Board President Liz Wielinski said the board will instead focus on making sure the bridge over the channel won't disturb the scenery.

"That is a bucolic area, and if we could do the bridges differently, I think we could make it still look pretty, and rustic and park-like without making it look like you're going under a freeway underpass," Wielinski said.

In light of the tentative deal, Gov. Mark Dayton has also agreed to restore nearly $4 million in state funding to the parks system, which he had threatened to cut.

The project still faces another legal hurdle.

A group of Minneapolis residents who live near the line — Lakes and Parks Alliance of Minneapolis — has filed a federal lawsuit arguing the Met Council should have done additional environmental reviews before the Minneapolis City Council voted on the project.

"We're disappointed we lost this avenue for addressing the problem of the degradation that is proposed for the chain of lakes," said Mary Pattock, board member of the Lakes and Parks Alliance.

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