The following article by Dylan Thomas was published in the November 3, 2014 issue of the SouthWest Journal.
Motion for Summary Judgment in Light Rail Lawsuit
A Minneapolis citizens’ group suing to halt work on the $1.65-billion Southwest Light Rail Transit line until an environmental review is complete on Monday asked a federal judge to forgo a trial and rule on the case immediately.
Attorneys for the Lakes and Parks Alliance of Minneapolis filed the motion for summary judgment about two months after bringing the lawsuit to U.S. District Court in Minneapolis. The group maintains Metropolitan Council violated state and federal law when it sought local approvals for the 16-mile light rail route before a report on its potential environmental impact was issued.
The group’s main concern is a shallow tunnel and new bridge planned for the Kenilworth Corridor in Minneapolis. The narrow transit corridor is already home to a bicycle and pedestrian path and tracks for freight trains.
To squeeze in light rail trains, Met Council engineers plan to dig a shallow tunnel through the corridor. But that late change to the project was not included in a 2012 draft environmental impact statement, or DEIS, and a supplemental report on the tunnel isn’t due until early 2015.
The project timeline set by Met Council forced local municipalities, including Minneapolis, to vote on consent for the project late this summer. Lakes and Parks Alliance of Minneapolis argues the votes should have been scheduled for after the supplemental DEIS was complete.
The lawsuit filed in September names the Met Council, Met Council Chair Sue Haigh and the Federal Transit Administration as defendants. In its motion for summary judgment, Lakes and Parks Alliance of Minneapolis argues that a trial is unnecessary because all of the facts of the case — including the timelines of the municipal consent and environmental review processes — are known and are not in dispute.
“The facts are what the facts are,” said attorney Tom Johnson.
On Monday evening, the Met Council issued this statement:
“Lakes and Parks Alliance had previously agreed to allow the Metropolitan Council to file its response (to the original lawsuit) on Nov. 10, which is the date that the Federal Transit Administration’s response is due. The Metropolitan Council had anticipated that the alliance might file a motion for summary judgment at some point in the future. Since we just received the documents this afternoon, we need to review them and will respond to the motion within the court’s timelines.”
Officials at the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board have also repeatedly expressed concerns about the shallow-tunnel plan for the Kenilworth Corridor. The corridor runs between Cedar Lake and Lake of the Isles, and future light rail trains would also cross a bridge over a water channel connecting those two lakes.
In October, a divided Park Board voted 5–2 to spend up to $500,000 on an independent study of a tunnel that would run underneath that water channel. It was an option at one time considered by Met Council engineers but dropped because of its expense and the engineering challenges.
The study could play a role in a future legal challenge to Southwest LRT from the Park Board.
Under a section of the Federal Transportation Act known as 4(f), parklands and historic properties are not to be used for transit projects unless no “feasible and prudent alternative” exists.