Mpls., Met Council Reach Tentative SWLRT Agreement

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Outside their home in Minneapolis’ Kenilworth neighborhood, Wendell Vandersluis and Cindy Marsh tend to a trailside garden.

But because it sits on the public right-of-way, it is a garden that will go if the proposed Southwest Light Rail Transit line comes through.

The $1.68 billion line is the latest plan to extend the region’s passenger rail mass transit into the southwest suburbs.

“We’re disappointed, because they’re going to jam all three, freight, two light rail lines and a bike path in the same area,” Vandersluis said.

For months the city of Minneapolis and the Met Council have been at odds over the route and the features of the extension to the newly-opened Green Line.

So to win Minneapolis support for the project, the Met Council and city leaders reached a tentative compromise over the Fourth of July holiday weekend.

The deal will remove the north shallow tunnel at the canal between Cedar and Lake of the Isles. By running the light rail lines at grade it will allow room to construct a passenger station at 21st Street – a city requested link to Metro Transit busses.

But engineers have no choice but to require a shallow tunnel south of the canal where the right-of-way is too narrow to accommodate an existing freight rail, bike path and proposed light rail. Consequently, the south tunnel will stay in the plan.

“The southern tunnel just isn’t wide enough to do that, so it’s imperative the LRT runs in a tunnel,” said Met Council chair, Susan Haigh. “That’s so we have enough space to keep freight rail and bike path.”

The deal worked out also promises to restore and maintain the corridor’s park-like landscaping. With neighborhood concerns over freight train traffic in the corridor, the agreement will keep the existing freight tracks publicly owned.

By eliminating the north tunnel from the plan, that will shave $60 million from the project’s $1.68 billion cost. Half of the savings will pay for the added passenger station, noise mitigation and other city requested corridor amenities.

Still, for residents like Marsh, the route still runs through neighborhoods she feels won’t produce the ridership that mass transit is supposed to benefit.

“I don’t think the options are good ones,” she said, “and we’ll just have to live with them now.”

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