Long-awaited Report on Light Rail Impacts Released

The following article by Dylan Thomas was published in the May 21, 2015 issue of the Southwest Journal.

Long-awaited Report on Light Rail Impacts Released


An agreement to keep both freight and light rail trains in the Kenilworth Corridor triggered
additional environmental review for the Southwest light rail project.

File photo


The supplemental draft environmental impact statement covers changes to the line since a
previous report was released in 2012

The Federal Transit Administration released a long-awaited report on the potential
environmental impacts of the Southwest Light Rail Transit project Thursday morning.

The report is a follow-up on a draft environmental impact statement, or EIS, released in October 2012. Several changes to the 16-mile light rail line made since then were significant enough to warrant a supplemental draft EIS that has been in progress for months.

Those include adjustments to the SWLRT alignment through Eden Prairie that moves stations closer to activity centers; a change in the planned location of an operations and maintenance facility (OMF) to Hopkins; and a number of modifications in St. Louis Park and Minneapolis, mainly intended to accommodate the co-location of freight and light rail in the Kenilworth Corridor.

For a time, the entire project appeared to be in danger because of Minneapolis’ refusal to allow co-location and St. Louis Park’s equally firm stance against taking the rerouted freight traffic from the Kenilworth Corridor, a position backed with the powerful support of the Twin Cities & Western Railroad that operates in the corridor. That sent Minneapolis leaders into mediation with Met Council behind closed doors, and the parties emerged with an agreement to run light rail trains in a tunnel through part of the Kenilworth Corridor, a concession that prevented the loss of a popular bicycle and pedestrian path that otherwise would’ve been squeezed out of the corridor by two sets of rail lines running at-grade.

Co-location is not without its costs, though. The supplemental draft EIS notes potential long-term impacts on the Grand Rounds Historic District and Kenilworth Lagoon, as well as to parkland in both St. Louis Park and Minneapolis.

Just how the line may affect both parkland and historic sites is still under review. Separate impact studies are required under two sections of federal law known as Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act and Section 4(f) of the Department of Transportation Act. The Minnesota Department of Transportation and Minnesota State Historic Preservation Office are expected to consult with the Federal Transit Administration on measures to mitigate potential impacts, and an agreement with cities along the line will need to be finalized before the FTA grants approval for the project.

The Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board and several neighborhoods that have signed on as “consulting parties” in the Section 106 review will have a seat at the table.

Just as controversial as the historic and parkland impacts may be the need to pump groundwater and storm water out of the Kenilworth Tunnel over the long term, a potential noted in the supplemental draft EIS. The tunnel dives below the water table as it cuts across the Chain of Lakes, and the report notes the pumps could encounter “zones of contaminated groundwater.”

Before construction begins, Met Council is required to come up with a groundwater management plan. Both the Minnehaha Creek Watershed District and Minnesota Department of Natural Resources have a say on how much groundwater is pumped and how that water is handled.

Spokespersons for both the city and the Park Board declined to comment on the report, which runs to over a thousand pages, saying it arrived unexpectedly Thursday morning and they hadn’t had time to review it, yet.

The public comment period officially opens tomorrow and runs through July 6. Comments can be delivered in-person at one of three open houses scheduled for June, including 5 p.m. June 18 at Dunwoody College of Technology, 818 Dunwoody Boulevard.

Written comments may be submitted via email to swlrt@metrotransit.org or addressed to:
Nani Jacobson, Assistant Director, Environmental and Agreements
Metro Transit — Southwest LRT Project Office
6465 Wayzata Boulevard, Suite 500
St. Louis Park, MN 55426