Following discussions that were mediated by a retired federal judge, officials from the City of Minneapolis and the Metropolitan Council have struck a tentative deal over plans for the Southwest Light Rail Corridor, which will run from Minneapolis to Eden Prairie.
Metropolitan Council Chair Susan Haigh and Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges announced the deal Tuesday. It still requires formal approval from both sides.
Existing (and controversial) plans called for the light rail to run through two shallow tunnels through the Kenilworth recreation area of Minneapolis. The tentative deal announced Tuesday would eliminate the tunnel that was proposed for north of the water channel connecting Cedar Lake and Lake of the Isles, while retaining plans for the other tunnel.
The deal would also revive plans to include a light-rail station at 21st Street and would appease the city’s requests for pedestrian access, noise mitigation, landscape restoration, and “other improvements along the portion of the corridor in Minneapolis,” the parties said in a joint press release.
Officials also said Tuesday that the deal would cut the Met Council’s revised budget by $30 million to $1.65 billion. That's still, however, hundreds of millions of dollars more than originally projected.
Meanwhile, the parties also said they reached a second “memorandum of understanding,” which calls for the Met Council to work with the City and the Hennepin County Regional Railroad Authority “to ensure that the Kenilworth freight corridor remains in public ownership, which the parties agree will decrease the chances that freight trains will increase in frequency or carry more dangerous cargo through the corridor.”
Last year, Twin Cities Business took an in-depth look at the dispute between Twin Cities & Western Railroad and public officials—a dispute that appeared capable of derailing the massive transit project altogether.
The City of Minneapolis wanted to get rid of the freight trains that run through the area between Cedar Lake and Lake of the Isles, but it lost that fight when the railroad (and the city of St. Louis Park) rejected a proposal to relocate the freight trains to St. Louis Park, Minnesota Public Radio reported.
Who's Happy with the Plan?
The Met Council’s Haigh described the proposed deal as a “win-win outcome” that improves the project for Minneapolis residents and could save taxpayers $30 million from an alternative plan.
Mayor Hodges, meanwhile, seemed less enthused. “The City of Minneapolis has always strongly supported the vision for Southwest LRT,” she said in a statement. “Our support now comes at a high cost—an unexpected and unwelcome cost—because freight was supposed to be removed.”
Hodges continued: “Governor Dayton is correct: The Kenilworth Corridor will not be the same. It could have been far worse, however, if not for the protections secured in this tentative agreement. With freight staying in the corridor, and given the constraints we face, this is the most responsible way to get the project built.”
Hodges added that she expects residents along the Kenilworth corridor will still be disappointed with the outcome, “but the greater good demands that we seek a path for Southwest LRT to move forward.” The new tentative deal would mean that some residents in the Kenwood neighborhood will have to deal with both freight and light-rail trains running above ground, right near their yards, according to MPR.
Too, the tentative deal reached by Minneapolis and transit planners is catching other communities along the Southwest Corridor by surprise and could delay scheduled votes on the project, the Star Tribune reported. For example, St. Louis Park was set to OK plans on Monday for the project but pushed back a vote in order to learn more about the newly proposed changes.