Park board: More study needed on Southwest light rail through Kenilworth

The following item by Laura Yuen was posted on MPR News on May 28, 2014.

Park board: More study needed on Southwest light rail through Kenilworth


Artist rendering of light rail over canal
Courtesy of the Metropolitan Council

The Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board says it will withhold support for the proposed Southwest light rail transit line, setting up yet another showdown.

Park board commissioners last week asked the Metropolitan Council to take a deeper look at sending the passenger trains through a tunnel beneath a water channel popular with bicyclists and kayakers. The council, however, approved a plan last month that calls for the trains to surface from shallow tunnels and cross a bridge over the Kenilworth Channel.

Federal law gives the park board the power to weigh in on transportation projects that affect parkland and historic sites, and it’s the board’s duty to protect the channel, said Park Board President Liz Wielinski.

“I don’t know that it would be veto power so much as another hurdle, and with every hurdle, it puts the project in peril,” she said. “It also delays implementation. And it is not the park board’s intention to delay this project.”

She called the channel area “an incredibly scenic portion of the city. If you walk down there, you can see just how special that area is.”

The park board is asking the Met Council to further study running the trains under the channel while the council seeks consent from Minneapolis and other cities. The resolution asks that the studies be done immediately “to prevent any unnecessary delay.”

The park board has also hired an engineering firm to identify the technical areas deserving closer examination, Wielinski said.

In a statement, the Met Council said the park board’s concerns aren’t new and that they’ll work with board officials “to resolve these issues at the appropriate point in that process.”

In March, Southwest project staff studied the idea to route the trains underneath the Kenilworth Channel and concluded that it was technically feasible but needed additional study. A few weeks later, a group of metro leaders recommended against the design concept, which light-rail planners determined would add a year to construction and raise the project’s cost by up to $85 million.

The Met Council agreed, and backed off the concept when it approved the project’s scope and budget.

Minneapolis and four additional cities touching the line need to reject or approve the plans for the 16-mile line to Eden Prairie by July 14.