Rail crossing near St. Louis Park High School
ST. LOUIS PARK, Minn. -- The notion of re-routing freight traffic as part of the Southwest Transitway light rail project has caused worries for some in this older suburb west of Minneapolis.
"The track here is full of blind curves, grade changes and crosses six road at grade, so it's an incredibly dangerous situation for the students at the high school," Thom Miller, who heads the citizens group Safety in the Park, told KARE.
The proposed Southwest Transitway light rail line run from Eden Prairie to downtown Minneapolis, where it will connect to the existing Hiawatha Light Rail line and the Central Corridor line currently under construction.
Miller's group prefers what's known as the "co-location" option, in which the existing freight line and the Southwest LRT share the same path from St. Louis Park to the Kenwood area of Minneapolis, known as the Kenilwood Corridor.
The Metropolitan Council, which is planning the light rail line and will operate it, is entertaining the option of re-routing freight traffic around the Kenwood area by diverting trains along the a north-south piece of track owned by the MN&S line.
That would send more trains through the area of the high school. It would also cost $23 million more to re-route those trains, according to the Draft Environmental Impact Statement created by HDR Engineering.
"It's still easier, faster, cheaper and a lot safer to run trains in the Kenilworth Corridor, than here next to our 1,300-student high school," Miller asserted.
The first version of the HDR report pegged the re-routing cost at $123 million, but that has since been revised downward because of what's being described as a $100 million typographical error.
"It's kind of incomprehensible that HDR, the consulting firm, made this error, but they did," Hennepin County Commissioner Peter McLaughlin told KARE.
"We found it, though, and we're moving forward."
McLaughlin, who also heads the Hennepin County Regional Rail Authority, said all the options are still in the planning stages. There's a 5:00 p.m. open house and 6:00 p.m. public hearing scheduled for Thursday night at Eden Prairie City Hall.
"The trains that we're talking about relocating are in St. Louis Park now. They're just on a different route, one that affects other areas."
McLaughlin said the re-route may be one of the concessions the people in that part of St. Louis Park will have to make in exchange for all the benefits of the new line.
"Saint Louis Park is going to get three light rail stations, and we'll see a lot of economic development opportunities around those stops," McLaughlin explained.
He said the co-location option also has potential safety issues, because of how near the freight line will be to the LRT line and regional bicycle trail in that area.
"It's a huge opportunity for the people of St. Louis Park, and the City of St. Louis Park, because they're going to be connected to this regional transportation system."
The line's projected construction cost is $1.2 billion. Federal Transit Administration grants will finance half of that total, and the metro area transit tax will pick up 30 percent.
The Hennepin County Regional Rail Authority will pay 10 percent, and the State of Minnesota will pay the remaining 10 percent.
The City Council in St. Louis Park supports the SW Light Rail Line, but is also on record as opposing the relocation of the freight line. Mayor Jeff Jacobs pointed out, however, that the city has no authority over the alignment of the Light Rail or the freight lines.
"I wish I had more control over it," Jacobs remarked. "I wish the city had the magic wand to wave to prevent the re-route and prevent the traffic and the freight rail, but we don't."
He said the City will continue to press for mitigation for train noise and vibrations, to help offset some of the traffic impacts of both the light rail and the freight line.
"We've got to make sure that, regardless of which decision the Met Council makes -- whether it's co-location or relocation -- that there's adequate mitigation because it will have an impact on the City no matter which route is chosen."
(Copyright 2012 by KARE. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)