Building shallow tunnels for light rail tracks and an LRT bridge over a channel between two lakes is the best option for the Southwest LRT (METRO Green Line Extension), planners reaffirmed today. Planners also recommended keeping Mitchell Station as the westernmost station in Eden Prairie.
The recommendation preserves homes, businesses, a trail used by over a half-million pedestrians and cyclists a year through the Kenilworth neighborhood and railroad tracks used by freight trains carrying commodities for shippers in more than two dozen west-central Minnesota farming communities.
“We have a wealth of information about this project and now is the time to use that information to make a decision that moves this project forward,” said Metropolitan Council Chair Susan Haigh. “We’re grateful to the communities along the line for their active participation over the last two years and especially during the last six months. What we’re hearing now from residents is they need us to make decision so they can move forward with their lives and help to ready their neighborhoods for light rail.”
Mark Fuhrmann, Metro Transit’s program director for New Starts rail projects, said that following six months of additional study, “all the information we’ve learned from the independent reports and additional discussions about safety, engineering, water resources, cost factors and freight rail operations and regulations points us toward the shallow LRT tunnel option through the Kenilworth Corridor.”
On April 2, planners will present their recommendation to the Southwest Corridor Management Committee, which is scheduled to discuss and vote on a recommendation to the Metropolitan Council.
The project now ranges from $1.673 billion to $1.683 billion as adjusted for inflation, up from $1.553 billion due to Mitchell Road Station being retained as the westernmost station and the additional time needed to inform project sponsors and the public about critical issues around water, freight and vegetation. The 15.8-mile line with 16 stations would now open in 2019 instead of late 2018.
The Corridor Management Committee and Metropolitan Council will take public testimony at their respective meetings in April before voting on the project’s scope and budget.
The Corridor Management Committee meeting will be from 8:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. on April 2 at Beth El Synagogue, 5224 W. 26th St., St. Louis Park.
Public testimony will be allowed from about 9 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. April 2. Persons wishing to speak can sign up with project staff on site starting at 8 a.m. Individuals will be allotted up to three minutes, and persons representing a group will be allotted up to five minutes. Signs will be allowed if they are not on sticks, poles or any other instrument that might threaten attendees’ safety.
Attendees are asked to be respectful of the meeting’s host, Beth El Synagogue, before, during and after the meeting. Information about the April 2 meeting will be posted on the Southwest Corridor Management Committee web page.
People who are unable to provide testimony at the April 2 meeting will have another opportunity on April 9 when the Met Council will discuss and approve project scope and budget. The Council meeting will begin at 3 p.m. April 9 in the Council chambers at 390 Robert St. N, St. Paul. Additional information about the April 9 meeting will be posted on the Council's Meetings web page.
Two tunnels would be built under the trail, with light rail trains emerging for about 20 seconds between them on a new at-grade LRT bridge over the channel between Cedar Lake and Lake of the Isles. Freight tracks adjacent to the trail would need to be moved slightly and would get a new at-grade bridge to replace the creosote-coated wooden trestle. This new freight railroad bridge with concrete supports would greatly reduce navigation obstacles between the lakes for canoeists, kayakers and cross-country skiers.
Staff also still recommends eliminating 21st Street Station in Minneapolis, which would be prohibitively expensive to build in a tunnel.
Project staff also recommends adjusting the route through Eden Prairie by building the tracks south of the original plan to bring light rail trains closer to the town center. It meets the city of Eden Prairie’s desire for a town center station in line with the city’s comprehensive plan, provides a multimodal connection between local buses, express buses and LRT at the Southwest Station and retains Mitchell Road Station at City Center as the line’s westernmost station.
If the Metropolitan Council approves the recommended scope and budget on April 9, project staff plans to submit LRT plans on April 10 to the five cities and Hennepin County for municipal consent by late June. The timetable is needed to meet a directive from the Counties Transit Improvement Board, which funds 30 percent of the construction cost, to advance the project or face loss of its funding.
About the project
The Southwest Light Rail Transit (LRT) Project (METRO Green Line Extension) will operate from downtown Minneapolis through the communities of St. Louis Park, Hopkins, Minnetonka, and Eden Prairie, passing in close proximity to the city of Edina. The line will connect major activity centers in the region including downtown Minneapolis, the Opus/Golden Triangle employment area in Minnetonka and Eden Prairie, Methodist Hospital in St. Louis Park, the Eden Prairie Center Mall, and the Minneapolis Chain of Lakes. Ridership in 2030 is projected at nearly 30,000 weekday passengers. The project will interline with Central Corridor LRT (METRO Green Line) which will provide a one-seat ride to destinations such as the University of Minnesota, state Capitol and downtown St. Paul. It will be part of an integrated system of transitways, including connections to the METRO Blue Line, the Northstar Commuter Rail line, a variety of major bus routes along the alignment, and proposed future transitway and rail lines. The Metropolitan Council will be the grantee of federal funds. The regional government agency is charged with building the line in partnership with the Minnesota Department of Transportation. The Southwest Corridor Management Committee, which includes commissioners from Hennepin County and the mayors of Minneapolis, St. Louis Park, Edina, Hopkins, Minnetonka, and Eden Prairie provides advice and oversight. Funding is provided by the Federal Transit Administration, Counties Transit Improvement Board (CTIB), state of Minnesota and Hennepin County Regional Railroad Authority (HCRRA). The Southwest LRT Project website is www.swlrt.org