The following article by Kelly Smith was published in the November 7, 2013 issue of the Star Tribune:
Met Council paves way to review options for Southwest Corridor
Officials’ plans to re-examine routes for freight, light-rail tracks draw fire for not moving ahead.
Plans for the Southwest Corridor light-rail line are passing back over old ground as officials try to re-examine all possible options for the controversial freight and light-rail tracks.
It comes after metro officials hit the reset button in what would be the metro area’s largest transit project going from Minneapolis to Eden Prairie costing $1.55 billion. Even though most of the potential railroad plans unveiled Wednesday to more than 50 residents and leaders from Hennepin County and west metro cities weren’t new ideas, an independent consultant will be hired this month. They will reanalyze all options because it’s important to “try to get the lay of the land,” Metropolitan Council chairwoman Susan Haigh said.
However, residents like Jami LaPray, the co-chair of the St. Louis Park advocacy group Safety in the Park, were skeptical the reassessment will dig up anything new.
“It’s a waste of time to look at these options that have already been looked at and looked at,” she said, adding that any plan that reroutes freight trains to St. Louis Park to make room for light-rail lines in Minneapolis won’t be an acceptable option. “That’s what’s frustrating; they keep going over the same ground over and over again.”
Some of the plans are ones that city and county officials say are likely going to reach the same conclusion as in the past — not doable — such as the option to put the freight line along the Midtown Greenway bike path in Minneapolis.
“We’re not going to pursue all these options,” Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak said.
It will cost the Met Council less than $1 million to hire an outside consultant for the freight reroute study. The company will be selected this month and will present draft reports by January followed by public input meetings.
If freight and light-rail trains are positioned next to each other, which LaPray’s group supports, light-rail tracks would run through two shallow tunnels in the Kenilworth Corridor. The Met Council is also hiring outside consultants to conduct two studies to assess the effect on water resources in south Minneapolis and what kind of landscaping will be needed there. Officials said it isn’t clear yet what it will cost for the other studies.
“The timeline to complete the three studies is very ambitious,” Hennepin County Commissioner Jan Callison said.
Rybak and St. Louis Park officials gave informal consent to the preliminary scope of the three studies Wednesday.
“Minneapolis is being asked to make drastic changes,” Rybak said. “This is not going to be easy, but I think it’s important we are working together.”