The following press release was issued by the Metropolitan Council on October 1, 2013:
Project staff recommendation: Shallow tunnels cost effective, best for long term
Also recommended: Hopkins maintenance base, Eden Prairie route adjustments
ST. LOUIS PARK, Minn. – Oct. 1, 2013 – Building shallow tunnels for light rail along the preferred route in Minneapolis is the most cost-effective solution and best long-term investment for the region, METRO Southwest LRT (Green Line Extension) planners said today. The recommendation, which will be considered by the Southwest Corridor Management Committee on Wednesday, was published today on the project’s website.
The project’s new cost estimate is $1.56 billion, up from the earlier $1.25 billion estimate that did not include any cost to address the location of freight rail in the corridor. In 2011, the Federal Transit Administration directed the Metropolitan Council to study options to keep freight rail in the LRT route through the Kenilworth neighborhood of Minneapolis in addition to studying how to reroute freight trains to St. Louis Park, adding the cost of dealing with freight rail to the LRT project.
“This really became two projects in one: build a light rail line and include the cost of any freight rail adjustments,” said Mark Fuhrmann, who leads LRT project development for the Metropolitan Council. “With the recommendation to put light rail in shallow tunnels, no homes or businesses will be acquired, and the Kenilworth Trail will stay within the corridor and be preserved for the long term. The shallow tunnel option is the best option because it ensures conditions in the Kenilworth neighborhood will be the most similar to existing conditions today.”
Had staff recommended relocating freight trains to St. Louis Park, tunnels would not be needed for light rail in Kenilworth because there would be enough space to build LRT tracks at ground level.
“But that would mean 220-plus LRT trains operating daily through Kenilworth, a significant visual impact that is largely avoided with shallow tunnels,” Fuhrmann said. “It is 20 seconds per train that light rail trains would be aboveground between the two tunnels. In 2014, design staff will work with the city, park board and surrounding community on ways to screen the LRT trains. We will work to develop a strategy to re-vegetate the corridor that removes hundreds of buckthorn and volunteer trees through Kenilworth.”
Project partners and the railroads spent a decade and a half studying various freight rail reroutes. Delaying a decision to reopen and re-study these eliminated freight rail reroutes would add an approximately $50 million each year, Fuhrmann said.
Members of the Corridor Management Committee and the Metropolitan Council will review the draft staff recommendations tomorrow (Oct. 2) and provide feedback before staff finalize their recommendations and the Council acts on Oct. 9.
As recommended by the Corridor Management Committee, planners also recommend building a maintenance facility in Hopkins where it would ensure efficient operations due to its location midway on the Southwest Corridor, translating into over half a million dollars in operational savings each year for years to come. That is because the Hopkins’ location provides more efficient means for train operator shift scheduling. With a Hopkins site recommendation, planners said they will work with local officials to address the loss of land from the tax base by identifying potential sites for transit-oriented development in the city.
Also recommended are elimination of the 21st Street Station in Minneapolis and Mitchell Road Station in Eden Prairie.
Adjusting the route through Eden Prairie by building the tracks south of the original plan will bring light rail trains closer to the town center. The line would end at Southwest Station, with SouthWest Transit remaining there, planners also recommended. Ending the line at Southwest Station trims $75 million to $80 million in project costs with minimal impact to ridership.
“This meets the city of Eden Prairie’s desire for a town center station in line with the city’s comprehensive plan and provides a multimodal connection between local buses, express buses and LRT,” Fuhrmann said.
Besides the big three issues of freight rail location, the location of the operations and maintenance facility and adjustments to the Eden Prairie alignment, the new cost estimate of $1.56 billion includes the staff recommended $100 million to $150 million in adjustments to other technical issues, which had smaller cost adjustments. This revised budget does not include the cost for locally requested betterments but allows for local partners to identify non-project sources to fund them.
If approved by the Council, project staffers plan to submit LRT plans in mid-October to the five cities and Hennepin County for municipal consent by late 2013. The timetable is needed to keep the project on schedule to finish engineering designs in 2014 so initial construction can begin in 2015 and the line can begin service by the end of 2018.
The Federal Transit Administration, which will pay for half the project, had directed engineers to study concepts for keeping freight rail traffic in Kenilworth where LRT tracks will be built, which is known as co-location, and for relocating freight rail traffic to St. Louis Park. Project staff began studying various concepts in January, meeting with technical staff from the cities, county, Minnesota Department of Transportation, Three Rivers Park District and the freight railroads.
On May 28, the project office announced six concepts for keeping freight rail traffic in Kenilworth and two engineering concepts to relocate freight rail traffic to St. Louis Park. Either a co-location concept or a relocation concept must be chosen to make room for LRT tracks through Kenilworth.
Over the summer, Council staff held 15 open houses related to Southwest LRT, which were attended by more than 2,000 people. Roughly 1,100 comments, suggestions and critiques have been received, reviewed and analyzed.
At two July open houses, planners focused on the two tunnel concepts and the relocation concept that avoids acquiring part of St. Louis Park High School’s football field based on public input that identified these three as the most viable of the eight options.
“Today’s draft staff recommendations reflect the public feedback to minimize property acquisitions and make the best regional investment for the long term, not the least expensive one,” Fuhrmann said.
The Corridor Management Committee will receive and review the staff recommendations at its 9:30 a.m. Oct. 2 meeting at the St. Louis Park Recreation Center, Banquet Room, 2nd floor, 3700 Monterey Dr., in St. Louis Park.
The Met Council’s Transportation Committee is scheduled to meet Oct. 7 in the Council Chambers to make a recommendation to the full Met Council.
The Met Council is scheduled to meet at 3 p.m. Oct. 9 in the Council Chambers, 390 Robert St. N., in St. Paul to approve the scope and cost.
About the Southwest LRT Project (Green Line Extension):
The Southwest Light Rail Transit (LRT) Project will operate from downtown Minneapolis through the southwestern suburban cities of St. Louis Park, Hopkins, Minnetonka, and Eden Prairie, passing in close proximity to the City of Edina. The proposed alignment is primarily at-grade and includes 17 new stations and approximately 15.8-miles of double track. The line will connect major activity centers in the region including downtown Minneapolis, the Opus/Golden Triangle employment area in Minnetonka and Eden Prairie, Methodist Hospital in St. Louis Park, the Eden Prairie Center Mall, and the Minneapolis Chain of Lakes. Ridership in 2030 is projected at 29,660 weekday passengers. The project will interline with Central Corridor LRT (Green Line) which will provide a one-seat ride to destinations such as the University of Minnesota, state Capitol and downtown St. Paul. It will be part of an integrated system of transitways, including connections to the METRO Blue Line, the Northstar Commuter Rail line, a variety of major bus routes along the alignment, and proposed future transitway and rail lines. The Metropolitan Council will be the grantee of federal funds. The regional government agency is charged with building the line in partnership with the Minnesota Department of Transportation. The Southwest Corridor Management Committee, which includes commissioners from Hennepin County and the mayors of Minneapolis, St. Louis Park, Edina, Hopkins, Minnetonka, and Eden Prairie provides advice and oversight. Funding is provided by the Federal Transit Administration, Counties Transit Improvement Board (CTIB), state of Minnesota and Hennepin County Regional Railroad Authority (HCRRA).
The Southwest LRT Project website is www.swlrt.org