Predicting a deadlock between Minneapolis and St. Louis Park will doom the Southwest Light Rail Transit (LRT) project, mayoral Candidate Cam Winton on July 25 called for reconsideration of an alternate route down the Midtown Greenway and Nicollet Avenue.
The so-called 3C alignment was discarded several years ago when the cities along the 15.8-mile LRT connection between Eden Prairie and downtown Minneapolis all agreed on a locally preferred alternative. That route, previously known as the 3A alignment, takes the LRT down the Kenilworth Corridor, a narrow strip of land bounded by homes and parkland.
The Kenilworth Corridor already contains a freight rail line and the popular Cedar Lake Trail biking and walking path. Minneapolis is firmly against co-location of LRT and freight rail in the corridor, and wants the freight traffic shifted to St. Louis Park.
Rerouting freight rail, though, is strongly opposed by some in St. Louis Park, where reconstruction of an existing freight railway would require the acquisition of homes and businesses and the construction of a two-story berm. It would also triple traffic on a freight rail line through the city.
This month, the local agency leading the project, the Metropolitan Council, unveiled eight different options for dealing with the freight in the Kenilworth Corridor, including tunneling. Depending on which scenario is chosen, its expected to add $120 million–$420 million to the estimated $1.25 billion cost of Southwest LRT.
Winton said those additional costs weren’t considered when the locally preferred alternative was selected.
“The cost assumptions that under-girded that analysis are no longer valid,” he said.
He later added: “The path that we’re going down now leads to no project, leads to no train.”
Winton said Minneapolis and its suburban neighbor are in a “zero-sum game,” and that both should deny the project their official OK, known as municipal consent. Together, he proposed, they could “get leverage” on the Met Council to reconsider the old 3C alignment.
In advocating for 3C, Winton used an argument familiar to anyone who was paying attention during the locally preferred selection process: It’s a choice between routing transit “where people live” in Uptown or “through the woods” on the Kenilworth Corridor.
One reason Kenilworth Corridor won out in that debate was that the 3C route doesn’t capture new as many transit users — a key factor in winning the federal funds expected to cover half of project costs — because Uptown residents are already likely to ride the bus. At the time, there were questions about the expense and engineering challenge of the 90-degree turn from the Midtown Greenway onto Nicollet Avenue. And many wondered how Eat Street businesses would fare during construction at a time when Central Corridor LRT construction was creating havoc for small business owners on University Avenue and their customers.
Responding to that last point, Winton pledged that, if he was elected and if LRT was routed down Nicollet Avenue, he would eat “every single night” of construction at an Eat Street restaurant.
The nonprofit Midtown Greenway Coalition has long been on record preferring streetcars over LRT to run alongside the bike and pedestrian path in that corridor. Both the greenway trench and Nicollet Avenue are likely routes for a revived Minneapolis street car system.
Winton, a streetcar opponent, said his proposal would "kill two birds with one stone," adding rail-based transit to the greenway and Nicollet Avenue but avoiding an investment in streetcars he views as unwise.
Winton isn’t alone in calling for a reconsideration of the old 3C alignment. Several speakers at a July 17 Southwest LRT open house hosted by the Met Council expressed that same viewpoint.
Jackie Cherryholmes, another contender for mayor, wrote in a post on her campaign website the same day as Winton's press conference that “costs associated with resolving the freight rail issue suggests that it would be good to reexamine alternative routes.”