Tunnels in Kenilworth approved for SW light rail

MINNEAPOLIS -- Six months after Gov. Mark Dayton postponed major decisions on the embattled Southwest Light Rail project, the Metropolitan Council approved a pair of $160 million tunnels Wednesday through a wooded corridor in Minneapolis.

The Met Council voted 14 to 2 to keep freight trains beside a bike trail in the Kenilworth Corridor, and send the light rail trains through tunnels. The passenger trains would surface for about 20 seconds to cross a bridge over a water channel between Cedar Lake and Lake of the Isles.

Several Met Council members, while acknowledging the Kenilworth solution wasn't perfect, spoke of the regional importance of building the third LRT spine in the Twin Cities.

"This is really about building a project for the next century," Met Council Chair Susan Haigh said.

Today's action, which approves the entire scope and nearly $1.7 billion budget for the project, triggers the process known as municipal consent.

The Met Council is seeking the support of all five cities touching the line, including Minneapolis, which has voiced strong objections to the tunnels. City leaders will need to negotiate with the Met Council over the next couple of months.

One of the dissenting Met Council members was Gary Cunningham, who is married to Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges. He spoke of broken promises in the planning process and said some of the social-equity arguments in favor of the project were overstated.

"I stand with the elected representatives of Minneapolis," Cunningham said.

Last month, the Minneapolis City Council voted unanimously for a resolution against the tunnels.

Building light rail to the southwest suburbs has suffered from delays, soaring costs, and acrimony that has pitted residents of Minneapolis against St. Louis Park.

The nearly 16-mile line would connect Minneapolis to Eden Prairie in 2019 at the earliest. It's an extension of the Green Line, which will connect the downtowns of St. Paul and Minneapolis and the University of Minnesota June 14.


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