MINNEAPOLIS -- The city of Minneapolis has scheduled a public hearing on the proposed Southwest Light Rail line for July 8, just six days before the deadline set by state law for communities along the route to grant municipal consent.
The hearing will be a 7 p.m in the auditorium of Anwatin Middle School, at 256 Upton Avenue South. Hennepin County and all five cities along the route face a July 14 deadline to grant consent to the $1.68 billion project, which is being built by the regional Metropolitan Council using a mix of federal and local funds.
The greatest point of contention remains opposition from residents who live near the Kenilworth Corridor in Minneapolis, a strip of land between Lake of the Isles and Cedar Lake. The corridor is home to a heavily traveled commuter biking trail and a freight line operated by the Twin Cities and Western Railroad.
Both the TC & W tracks and the Kenilworth Bike Trail cross over a scenic channel that links the two lakes, a narrow waterway filled with canoes, kayak and paddle boards on Friday.
The Metropolitan Council most recent plan was to bury the SWLRT in tunnels under the bike trail, but that hasn't quieted neighborhood opposition. Some fear the environmental impact of building a tunnel amid natural springs that feed the two lakes. Others worry the tunnel will be too close to a group of condominiums next to the trail.
Planners have gone back and forth on whether the light rail should cross over the channel, or go below it in a deeper tunnel.
While other cities have gone ahead with the public hearings for the light rail and scheduled city council votes on municipal consent, Minneapolis has negotiated privately with the Met Council trying to come up with a workable plan.
The Minneapolis Star Tribune on Friday, citing unnamed sources, reported that a compromise is afoot designed to get Minneapolis on board. According the the newspaper's account, one proposal is to put the light rail above ground in the section of the Kenilworth Corridor that is north of the water channel.
That option would allow for a passenger station near East 21st Street and Thomas Avenue South. That station was part of the original SWLRT plan, but was scrapped once the Met Council with the option of burying the train in shallow tunnels.
Some view that station as a plus for Minneapolis, which doesn't enjoy as many SWLRT stops as some of the other cities along the route. But others worry that the station would traffic problems in the nearby Kenwood Neighborhood because bus lines would most likely run between Uptown and the 21st Street Station.
"There are not enough people in that neighborhood to justify the 21st Street Station," Susie Goldstein, a bicyclist on the Kenilworth Bike Trail, told KARE.
"I think it should go through Uptown where the people live. Send it right through Lake Street!"
Others doubt the line will generate enough passenger traffic to justify the expense, with or without the tunnels.
"It doesn't pay off. It's a lot of money to sink into something that doesn't really do what it's supposed to do," said Steve Kessler, who was biking with his family from Hopkins to the Twins game.
Rosemary Walsh, a retired teacher and longtime resident of the Kenilworth Triangle neighborhood, says she fears the LRT will alter the character or the neighborhood.
"I've lived here for 55 years and it is the most wonderful place in town," Walsh remarked. "And to take this away from the people of Minneapolis by putting a light rail here is insane!"
Many in the area feel betrayed that freight traffic still runs in the corridor because they were led to believe years ago freight trains would stop running in that area if the light rail line came. The Twin Cities and Western began using the Kenilworth route after changes to Hiawatha Avenue in southeast Minneapolis took away one of the railroad's alternative options.
But others enjoying the bike trail on Independence Day said they're excited about the idea of being able to catch a train in the area and head to downtown Minneapolis.
"We were so excited about the Green Line opening, and whatever it takes to get the one going out west is what it takes," said Leslie Chlebek, who lives downtown.
Scott Marble, of Minneapolis, who was walking the trail with his wife Jill and their baby, said he trusted the builders to do take the right steps to safeguard the environment and restore the trees that will be lost to the project.
"It would be quite an interruption for the people, construction wise, but I think it's going to be a good thing for the neighborhood overall," Marble said.
City Councils in Minnetonka and Hopkins have already granted municipal consent to the SW Light Rail. The city councils in St. Louis Park and Eden Prairie, as well as the Hennepin County Board, have all scheduled votes in the next 10 days.
If any of the cities votes to object to the light rail line's design, the Met Council is required by law to hold more hearing and consider amendments to the plan. And while the regional agency has the power to move ahead with the project without consent of all the cities, Council Chairwoman Susan Haigh has said she will not do so.