The following article by Eric Best was published in the January 5, 2015 edition of the Southwest Journal.
The Minneapolis Parks and Recreation Board may ask federal transit officials to put an end to its dispute with the Metropolitan Council over the Southwest Light Rail Transit Project’s Kenilworth crossing.
The Park Board is scheduled to vote on two resolutions during its meeting Wednesday regarding the SWLRT project.
If approved, one resolution would double the board’s investment with an engineering firm to study if there is a reasonable alternative to the Met Council’s proposed bridge for the Kenilworth channel.
The other resolution would approve sending a letter to the regional office of the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) requesting a meeting to discuss “legal jeopardy” because the Park Board is concerned that current project circumvents federal law, according to the resolution. The meeting would outline the board’s concern that the council hasn’t sufficiently studied alternatives. A sample letter in Wednesday’s agenda packet is available here.
The letter could lead to action from the FTA to force the Met Council to fund additional engineering studies if it finds, as the park board contends, that there could be a feasible alternative to a bridge over the channel. According to Section 4(f) of the Federal Transportation Act, a transportation project that uses parkland can only move forward with a proposed route if there’s no “feasible and prudent” alternative.
In November, the board voted to pay national engineering firm Brierley Associates $245,500 for phase one in a study of the possibility of a shallow tunnel under the channel that connects the Lakes of the Isles and Cedar Lake. This week’s resolution would increase the contract up to $248,275, nearly doubling the investment to $493,775, just shy of the $500,000 authorized for the studies.
The first phase in the firm’s study resulted in two options, a “cut and cover” option and a “jacked box” option. The first option would involve excavating a trench along the crossing, building a tunnel and covering it. The second would involve pushing or pulling a concrete box through the ground under the channel.
The second phase of the study will address the prudence of the two options, including noise and impacts to water and park resources.
The two parties showed an interest in meeting on the issue earlier this year. A Met Council spokeswoman told the Journal in November that staff would be willing to meet with the Park Board and its consultants on the issue after Superintendent Jayne Miller and President Liz Wielinski requested a workshop.