Neighbors Upset after $330M Light Rail Tunnel is Rejected

Updated: 09/05/2013 1:18 PM By: Stephen Tellier

A $330 million tunnel underneath the Kenilworth corridor in Minneapolis is all but dead.
Wednesday's vote by an advisory panel to nix that option still leaves two pricey alternatives on the table for the Southwest light-rail project, but some neighbors say they're both far worse than an expensive tunnel.
The line will eventually run about 16 miles from Minneapolis to Eden Prairie. But the precise route of the journey into the west metro is still very much up for debate.
The tranquil trail contrasts sharply with turbulence of the light rail planning process.
"It just makes absolutely no sense," said Stuart Chazin, founder of the Kenilworth Preservation Group.
The Southwest light-rail line may eventually run right through the Kenilworth neighborhood in Minneapolis, where a freight rail line already exists.
"Are you going to put LRT (light-rail transit) through Central Park? Of course not, it's a park," Chazin said.
At KPG's urging, the Metropolitan Council had been considering an option that would have plunged the light rail deep beneath the Kenilworth trail at a cost of $330 million.
"It would keep freight where it is now. It would keep the LRT below-grade so this area does not get destroyed," Chazin said.
But on Wednesday, an advisory panel panned that idea.
"It's tragic," Chazin said of the decision.
Two options remain: a shallow tunnel through the same corridor, at a cost of $160 million, or a re-route of the freight rail line through St. Louis Park, costing $200 million, and allowing light-rail to run above-ground through Kenilworth.
Chazin said he doesn't like either option, "because it destroys Kenilworth corridor either way you do it."
Opposition goes beyond Kenilworth, as St. Louis Park residents have already held demonstrations against any freight rail re-route through their city.
Both options would also put the total estimated cost of the line between $1.6 and $1.7 billion, well above the original price tag of $1.25 billion, but less than the deep tunnel option.
Chazin said the true costs will run even higher.
"We think they are going to destroy a precious resource that Minneapolis should not lose," Chazin said.
The Metropolitan Council is exploring the possibility of having an outside group of engineering experts take a look at the situation and make sure they haven't missed any alternative routes for the freight rail line. But a spokeswoman said the council doesn't yet know how much such a study would cost.
There will be at least three more meetings this month where officials will discuss those remaining options.
A vote to choose a route is expected to happen on Oct. 2. One week later, the Metropolitan Council is expected to hold a final vote on the scope and cost of the project.