LRT Done Right report highlights Southwest LRT concerns

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August 28, 2014
By: Dylan Thomas
Dylan Thomas
Citizens’ group released report one day before final City Council vote

A citizen’s group opposed to the current design for the Southwest Light Rail Transit project released a report Thursday that highlights their concerns over safety and potential environmental impact, as well as their skepticism about promises of transit equity.

The report, authored by members of LRT Done Right, was delivered Thursday morning to Mayor Betsey Hodges and members of the City Council. On Friday the council is expected to vote on the city’s final approval of plans for the $1.65-billion, 16-mile rail connection between Minneapolis and Eden Prairie.

The 10-page report is also highly critical of the cost of the line and the process that led Minneapolis to the cusp of approving a design city leaders had once staunchly opposed:  light rail trains running alongside freight tracks through the Kenilworth Corridor.

Mary Pattock, one of the report’s authors, said those questioning the project have been mischaracterized as wealthy homeowners who don’t want a transit project in their backyards.

“The people who would live right on that line live on multi-unit buildings,” Pattock, a CIDNA resident, said. “… Over and over they have been talked about as the rich NIMBYs. There are a few wealthy people who would be impacted, but there are hundreds more who are not (wealthy), who live in modest homes who would be impacted.”

There is significant overlap in the membership of LRT Done Right and the Lakes and Parks Alliance of Minneapolis, a group threatening to sue if the Southwest LRT project completes the local approval process before last-minute changes to the Minneapolis section of the project go through an environmental impact study. That study, a supplement to the already completed draft environmental impact statement for the rest of the line, isn’t expected until January.

Planners at the Metropolitan Council have described securing local approval, known under state law as municipal consent, as separate but parallel process to environmental review. Tomorrow’s City Council vote is the last step in municipal consent.

A divided Transportation and Public Works Committee on Wednesday gave its approval of the project. Southwest LRT opponents noted City Attorney Susan Segal has so far declined to offer a legal opinion on the environmental review question.

“I’m sure if she thought it was A-OK, she would be saying that to the city council,” Pattock said.

Twin Cities & Western, the freight railroad that operates in the Kenilworth Corridor, mainly transports agricultural products between rural western Minnesota and the Twin Cities. The corridor typically sees just a few trains each day.

While city leaders aim to keep it that way, they acknowledge there is no way to guarantee that TC&W or another operator couldn’t run more train or a more dangerous mix of products in the future. The LRT Done Right report maintains Met Council planners have not adequately addressed their safety concerns.