Thursday, April 03, 2014

Twin Cities SW LRT route still debated

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Though friction continues from various quarters, a compromise plan for Southwest Light Rail Transit, linking Minneapolis with Eden Prairie, Minn., is gaining support from several parties—but not all.

Conflict has ensued over right-of-way traversing St. Louis Park, Minn., and LRT's potential impact there. A recommendation now endorsed by Metropolitan Council planners seeks shallow tunnels and a bridge through the area, along with keeping Mitchell Station as the westernmost station in Eden Prairie, an affluent suburb southwest of the Twin Cities.

The recommendation preserves homes, businesses, and a rail trail used by pedestrians and bicyclists, as well as freight rail right-of-way used by Glencoe, Minn.-based Twin Cities & Western Railroad Co. (TC&W), a short line which balked at rerouting its operations to accommodate LRT operations. (Railway Age named TC&W it's 2008 Short Line of the Year.)

"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," Metropolitan Council Chair Susan Haigh said to local media. "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."

Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges has protested the latest compromise effort, describing it as "a fundamental failure of fairness" to residents of Minneapolis proper. Last month the Minneapolis City Council unanimously backed Hodges, insisting freight rail traffic on the right-of-way be diverted.

The new proposal must still receive final approval from Met Council, which may come next week, and Hodges still can act to thwart the latest plan. A June 30 deadline looms for agreement among municipalities, with local funding commitments at risk after that date.

The 15.8-mile Southwest LRT Project, also called the Green Line extension, will extend the Green Line (Central Corridor LRT, due to open in St. Paul June 14) from downtown Minneapolis (including Target Field Station, a multimodal hub)  through growing southwestern suburban municipalities.