MOU eases Twin Cities LRT squabble

Written by Douglas John Bowen
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The Metropolitan Council and the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board on Friday, Feb. 27, 2015, announced a resolution, or at least a truce, over a proposed light rail transit (LRT) line in Minneapolis and nearby communities.

The Memorandum Of Understanding (MOU) addresses the proposed Southwest Light Rail Transit (Green Line Extension) route across the Kenilworth Channel, an issue which has threatened to scuttle the LRT expansion altogether.

Metropolitan Council Chair Adam Duininck and Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board President Liz Wielinski jointly noted that with its engineering studies complete, “Park Board staff and legal counsel are recommending to Park Board Commissioners support of a light rail transit bridge over the channel.” The MOU also “provides for a more direct Park Board role in the design of the proposed bridges over the channel and earlier involvement in any light rail transit project to address impacts to park land and park resources owned by the Park Board.

Duininck noted that Met Council, the transportation agency overseeing public transit development in Minnesota’s Twin Cities, has agreed to pay the Park Board 50% of the engineering costs, not to exceed $250,000, incurred during the Park Board’s exploration of additional tunnel options because the work will be incorporated in the Council’s environmental documentation and analysis.

Met Council will benefit from analysis conducted by the Park Board commissioned engineering study to further evaluate tunnel alternatives under the channel. This information will help inform the 4(f) analysis that will be addressed in the Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SDEIS) and the final 4(f) analysis.

The MOU calls for the Metropolitan Council to:

• Work together with the Park Board on design considerations offered by the Park Board in the final engineering and design of the bridges over the Kenilworth Channel; and

• Change project office policy to engage the Park Board more directly in the Southwest LRT project and earlier in any light rail projects that involve park land.

The MOU calls for the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board to:

• Work with Metropolitan Council earlier in the planning process to identify potential Section 4(f) impacts for park and recreational areas within its jurisdiction; and

• Collaborate more closely with the Council on design principles and final design and engineering of the bridges over the Kenilworth Channel.

Both Met Council and the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board are expected to take action on the MOU at their next regularly scheduled meetings: March 4 for the Park Board, March 11 for the Council.

The MOU is the latest effort to advance the Southwest Light Rail Transit Line against resistance from various parties. Last September the Minneapolis City Council grudgingly approved a compromise package advancing the line, linking Minneapolis with Eden Prairie, Minn.

The controversial line, essentially the fourth LRT route for the Twin Cities, has generated more controversy within the region than the initial Hiawatha (Blue) Line, the existing Central Corridor (Green) Line which opened last June, linking Minneapolis with St. Paul locations, or the 13-mile Bottineau Light Rail Transit line (Blue Line extension).

One Twin Cities rail advocate hailed the move, noting on Friday to Railway Age, “[The] next challenge is getting state funding through the legislature.”