Condo, Townhouse Residents Prefer Freight Trains to Light Rail Traffic

The following article by Pat Doyle was published in the Star Tribune and updated on March 13, 2014:



Resident groups say they’d rather have freight trains than ground-level light rail, and they complain Minneapolis is ignoring their concerns in Southwest fight.

Minneapolis townhouse and condo owners in the Kenilworth corridor complain that Mayor Betsy Hodges and the City Council are ignoring their concerns about the future Southwest light-rail transit line.

The groups say the city officials are focusing on moving freight trains out of the corridor to make room for the light-rail line to run at ground level at the expense of nearby townhouses and condos.

“We are concerned that you may have lost sight of the residential impact on homeowners if the LRT runs ‘at grade,’?” they wrote in a letter to Hodges and council members.

The mayor and council members have called for rerouting the freight trains to St. Louis Park so the light rail could run at ground level next to bike and pedestrian trails in the corridor. St. Louis Park doesn’t want the freight traffic.

The townhouse and condo groups, representing 166 homeowners at the narrowest part of the corridor, would rather keep freight trains there and put the light rail in tunnels under the existing bike and pedestrian trails.

Peter Wagenius, a policy aide to the mayor, said he met with representatives of the groups in January. “The mayor and the City Council disagree with the associations on the best way to protect the Kenilworth Corridor,” he said, “but we will continue to work on mitigations in any scenario.”

The groups’ letter also widens a rift between the townhouse and condo owners and some other Kenilworth residents who live in a more affluent area near a channel between Cedar Lake and Lake of the Isles and who want the freight trains rerouted.

While that idea has been embraced by Hodges and the City Council, the condo and townhouse owners south of Cedar Lake Parkway complained that their concerns about running light-rail trains at ground level near their homes have been ignored.

“We have been disappointed that not one Minneapolis official has engaged in any attempt to help us address issues impacting our homes,” the letter said.

The letter said the groups backed digging tunnels for the light-rail line and keeping the freight trains because there will be about 220 light-rail trains running through the corridor daily compared with a few freight trains. It said the city needs to focus on ways to reduce the effect of whatever plan is adopted.

“With only a few feet separating some of our units from the proposed line, there are extremely limited options for mitigation here,” the letter said.

“We have seen the significant concessions that other cities along the route have been able to gain and we need to see our own Minneapolis elected officials take a stand on what we need, vs. just focusing on moving the freight line,” it concluded.

“We’re saying, ‘We’re going to need your help here regardless … of whether it’s at grade or tunnels,” said John Erickson, who cosigned the letter and is vice president of the Cedar Lake Shores Townhome Association. “The city needs to spend some time thinking about the residential impact … that particular issue has not gotten any play time.”

Cherie Hamilton, the Calhoun Isles Condominium Association president who also signed the letter, said, “We don’t really have a voice in any of this.”

Plans for the Southwest Corridor light-rail project were expected to be finalized last year. Instead, the $1.5 billion project is in jeopardy because of the freight-train stalemate between Minneapolis and St. Louis Park.

The letter cited the delay and uncertainty as harming property values. “It is unconscionable to leave citizens in limbo,” it said. It was e-mailed to Hodges and City Council members Wednesday.

“I have not gotten any response” from the city, said Nancy Green, a member of the Calhoun Isles Condominium Association who leads the group’s Southwest light-rail committee. “I don’t know why they haven’t responded in the past.”