The following article by Pat Doyle was published in the Star Tribune on February 13, 2014:
Southwest LRT reroute plan draws fire in St. Louis Park
Some St. Louis Park homeowners shouted at officials to express anger at the effort to move freight trains for Southwest light-rail line.
An angry crowd of St. Louis Park homeowners on Wednesday demanded that transit planners drop their latest proposal for rerouting freight trains in their community to make room for the Southwest Corridor light-rail in a recreational corridor of Minneapolis.
Shouting criticism at officials overseeing the light-rail project, many in the crowd of 200 insisted that planners move bike trails from the Kenilworth corridor instead of rerouting freight train traffic from there to St. Louis Park.
At one point, a man stood and led a chant: “Hell no, get out, we don’t want no reroute.”
Some accused the Metropolitan Council, the agency overseeing the project, of favoring more affluent residents along the Kenilworth corridor by not moving the bike paths.
“You have caved to political pandering,” Meg McCormick told them. “Moving the bike path has got to be part of your final comparison.”
The Met Council is expected to decide next month whether to approve rerouting the freight trains from the Kenilworth corridor to St. Louis Park or keep them in the corridor and dig light rail tunnels nearby under bike and pedestrian trails.
The tunnel option would allow fitting the light rail next to the freight in the sometimes narrow corridor without moving the trails, but would consume $160 million of Southwest project’s $1.5 billion cost.
St. Louis Park residents point out that moving the trails and building the light rail at ground level alongside freight in the Kenilworth corridor was expected to be cheaper than the latest proposal for rerouting the freight — estimated to cost $112 million without property acquisition.
Some pressed Met Council Chairwoman Susan Haigh to explain why the freight reroute is still being considered while moving the bike trails — once an option — no longer is. She said a panel of metro leaders last year favored keeping the trails next to light-rail tunnels and the freight traffic, but that Gov. Mark Dayton later supported taking another look at rerouting the freight trains.
“There was no request for us to look again at the bike trail issue,” Haigh said. She said it could resurface when the panel of metro leaders weighs in again on the light-rail plan., but that Minneapolis didn’t appear to favor moving the trails.
Last year St. Louis Park officials and some residents opposed an earlier reroute that would have involved elevating the freight trains on two-story berms in their community. The Met Council later hired a consultant, TranSystems of Kansas City, which tweaked that plan to reduce the height.
Because the tracks would still run near St. Louis Park High School and a grade school, the consultant “anticipates that the community will not readily embrace this routing,” said a report by TranSystems. Jim Terry, a principal of the firm, said about seven homes and seven businesses in St. Louis Park would need to be acquired to make the reroute work.
Residents at the public meeting Wednesday found plenty to fault in the latest reroute plan, which like the earlier version could triple the number of trains near their homes.
“My house vibrates,” said Kari Hendlin, of St. Louis Park. “I can only imagine what it will be like with longer, faster, more frequent trains. I may not be able to sell my house.”
Local opposition to the Southwest project could doom it when the Met Council seeks the consent of cities along the nearly 16-mile light-rail route between Eden Prairie and Minneapolis. Minneapolis residents have balked at keeping the freight trains alongside a future light rail, but some of its residents say they’d rather keep the freight and not have the light rail.
St. Louis Park Mayor Jeff Jacobs said at the Wednesday meeting that the City Council was united in opposing the freight reroute plan.