Demand Responsible LRT Design in Minneapolis

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Read Mayor Hodge's Letter to Met Council Chair Susan Haigh

Read Mayor Hodge's Letter to Met Council Chair Susan Haigh

Mayor Hodge's letter from March 3, 2014 reasserts the city's position that co-location is not an acceptable solution to the issue of freight.
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Editorial: To Fix SWLRT Start Over

Editorial: To Fix SWLRT Start Over

Read the April editorial written by the staff of Uptown Neighborhood News.
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Mayor Hodges: 'This is about a fundamental failure of fairness'

Mayor Hodges: 'This is about a fundamental failure of fairness'

Read Mayor Hodges' remarks before the SWLRT Corridor Management Committee, which endorsemed, 11-2, the shallow-tunnel and bridge plan for SWLRT.
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The Twin Cities has a legacy to protect.

The Twin Cities has a legacy to protect.

Read the August 10th Star Tribune editorial written by Louise Erdrich, distinguished author and owner of Birchbark Books.
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Southwest Light Rail: It is not an equity train


MinnPost published a commentary written by LRT Done Right’s own, Julie Sabo (pictured at left with Senator Scott Dibble).

“Rather than planning from the suburbs into the city — as in the case of SWLRT, in search of the quickest path in and out — equity-focused transit would work within the city to improve connections between urban communities, then move outward to connect with suburban areas.”

Read the full article at MinnPost and share your thoughts in the comments section!

The Inconvenient Truths of SWLRT

Read the guest editorial written by members of LRT Done Right in the Uptown Neighborhood News: The Inconvenient Truths of Southwest Light Rail. The staff of the Uptown Neighborhood News also published their own editorial recommending that the SWLRT project start over: To Fix SWLRT, Start Over. Read both of the editorials on page 2: 
April 2014 Uptown Neighborhood News by UptownNews

Letter from Mayor Hodges to Minneapolis

Dear Minneapolis resident,

Thank you for sharing your opinion with me about Southwest Light Rail. I want you to know that just this morning, Metropolitan Council staff issued their official recommendation to route light rail through the Kenilworth Corridor in shallow tunnels, and on a bridge over the channel between Lake of the Isles and Cedar Lake.

I would like to invite you personally to make your voice heard at a public hearing about this recommendation this Wednesday, April 2. The public hearing will take place before a vote by the Southwest Corridor Management Committee, on which I sit, on whether to recommend the shallow tunnels with a bridge over the channel between the lakes.

I encourage you to make your voice heard at this final opportunity for public testimony.

Southwest Corridor Management Meeting
Public Hearing
Wednesday, April 2
8:30 – 11:30 a.m.
Beth El Synagogue
5224 West 26th Street, St. Louis Park

I have attached a letter I sent to Metropolitan Council Chair Sue Haigh on March 3, 2014 with my comments on the Southwest Light Rail studies, including the freight study.

I thank you for your participation and hope to see you Wednesday.


Betsy Hodges

Hill & Lake Press: Minneapolis pressured to accept co-location

From the front page of the latest issue of the Hill & Lake Press

by Jeanette Colby

“City of Minneapolis support for the Locally Preferred Alternative [LPA] is based on the premise that freight rail will be relocated from the Kenilworth Corridor. The City of Minneapolis will not accept the co-location alternative in which freight, LRT, and trails are placed in the same corridor. While the Federal Transit Administration has directed that the Metropolitan Council examine this option, it will not be accepted by the City of Minneapolis as part of the municipal consent process. The co-location option will displace dozens of households, will create irreversible damage to the character of the neighborhood, and will destroy high quality parkland that cannot be mitigated.”

As many Hill & Lake readers know well, so wrote our city’s representatives in response to the Southwest LRT Draft Environmental Impact Statement published in December 2102. Now, however, the pressure is on to accept a much different LPA from what was proposed in the DEIS: co-location with “shallow,” or cut-and-cover, tunnels.

Community members asked months ago if such a tunnel under the channel would be possible and were told (at that time) it was not technically feasible due to the “buoyancy effect.” The Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board, however, was apparently able to show that the idea was actually worth exploring. The Met Council is now doing so, and will offer a more detailed proposal at the next CMC meeting Wednesday, March 26, 8:30 AM-11:30 AM at Beth El Synagogue (5224 W 26th Street in St Louis Park).

Unfortunately, the Met Council can only propose engineering plans. In this instance, a critical fact is that the Met Council has no control over funding, which depends on the Counties’ Transit Investment Board (CTIB) for 30% of the local share. Hennepin County and the State of Minnesota are each supposed to add 10%, bringing the local share of funding to 50% with the federal government providing the other half.

On top of regular state sales taxes, Metropolitan area residents pay an extra quarter-cent on all purchases for the purpose of improving transit. The CTIB is the public entity in control of and responsible for distributing these funds. The quarter-cent sales tax generated over $108 million in 2013. The five counties involved – Anoka, Dakota, Hennepin, Ramsey, and Washington – all have projects they would like to CTIB to fund. The proposed SWLRT is a Hennepin County project.

In response to the new proposal at the March 12th CMC meeting, the CTIB’s official representative to the CMC, Anoka County Commissioner Matt Look, stated, “It sounds like someone’s trying to get their hand into CTIB’s wallet.” He went on to say he is a firm advocate of co-location at-grade, later arguing that taking down the Cedar Shores Townhomes makes the most sense. He pointed out that there are lots of good projects in CTIB’s queue, and SWLRT can’t divert money “unnecessarily” from these.

Based on Commissioner Look’s and other CTIB members’ public statements, there is obviously no guarantee that the CTIB will provide funding if the CMC decides that the SWLRT scope and budget should include tunnels (of any kind). Further, the tunnel ideas were not studied in the 2012 DEIS, the 2007 Alternatives Analysis, or in any other previous document.

Meanwhile, bicycle groups are getting pressure to accept diversion of the trails onto busy city streets to make room for co-location, according to a source who participates on several boards. Trying to make the idea palatable, the bicycle commuters are apparently being promised various improvements and future bicycle projects within Minneapolis.

In addition to concerns about CTIB funding, the Met Council is not required to stand by the specifics of agreements made today. Council Member Lisa Goodman asked Hennepin County Commissioner Peter McLaughlin about this serious matter at a recent meeting. His response was not reassuring. “If we get to 60% engineering and find we have to make substantial changes for whatever reason, we will come back to you again for municipal consent.” Both CM Goodman and mayoral aide Peter Wagenius pointed out that municipal consent can hardly be withheld when bulldozers are poised to break ground.

So despite its earlier clear rejections, including the recent unanimous City Council resolution supported by Mayor Hodges, Minneapolis is being pressured to consent to a co-location SWLRT project. Without adequate guarantees and vetting, however, acceptance of this new rendition of co-location could clearly be fraught with more very unpleasant surprises. Planners know they can’t go back and fix the many admitted mistakes made along the way, but they seem to be willing to go forward building on those past mistakes.

Unanimous Approved City of Minneapolis Resolution introduced by Council Member Kevin Reich

Here is the copy of the full resolution passed by the Minneapolis City Counsel today:
By ReichSubmission of comments to the Metropolitan Council on their recent studies related to the Southwest Light Rail Transit ProjectWhereas, in 1998, the Twin Cities and Western Railroad and the Soo Railroad, doing business as the Canadian Pacific Railroad, signed a trackage rights agreements with Hennepin County requiring the railroads to move out of the Kenilworth Corridor when provided with a new connection to the MN&S corridor in St. Louis Park; and

Whereas, the City of Minneapolis resolution of support of the Southwest Light Rail Transit (LRT) Locally Preferred Alternative (LPA) in 2010 makes it clear that City support for the Kenilworth LRT route is contingent upon implementation of freight rail relocation; and

Whereas, the City of Minneapolis accepted the Kenilworth light rail alignment in the spirit of regional cooperation in a joint effort to keep this important project advancing; and

Whereas, the City of Minneapolis reiterated its position on re-routing freight rail in comments responding to the 2012 Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) for the Southwest LRT project; and

Whereas, in October 2013, the Southwest LRT Corridor Management Committee recommended that the Shallow Tunnels concept move forward for municipal consent; and

Whereas, in October 2013, Governor Mark Dayton subsequently requested that the Metropolitan Council conduct three additional studies; and

Whereas, the Metropolitan Council’s independent consultant, TranSystems, has succeeded in putting forward a viable plan for re-routing freight rail via the Minneapolis, Northfield and Southern (MN&S) North corridor; and

Whereas, the TranSystems solution is a more cost effective solution than the previous Brunswick Alignments considered; and

Whereas, the TranSystems solution will have no detrimental impacts to railroad shippers or communities in rural Minnesota; and

Whereas, the TranSystems solution through the MN&S corridor route includes equal or better horizontal curves, vertical curves, and compensated grades when compared with the Kenilworth corridor; and

Whereas, the TranSystems solution includes cutting-edge technology that could make the MN&S the safest stretch of rail in the state; and

Whereas, the TranSystems solution meets American Railway Engineering and Maintenance Right-of-Way Association (AREMA) standards, which is the national standard for freight engineering and is the standard the Metropolitan Council called for in its published scope for the independent freight study; and

Whereas, relocating freight also provides a number of important benefits to St. Louis Park; and

Whereas, the TranSystems solution means there will no longer be any freight switching, sorting, or blocking operations within the St. Louis Park City limits, including the elimination of the Skunk Hollow wye and storage tracks east of Trunk Highway 100; and

Whereas, noise and vibration on the existing MN&S tracks will be reduced by replacing the rails with continuously-welded rail; and

Whereas, the TranSystems solution impacts St. Louis Park neighborhoods far less than the Brunswick concepts advanced by the Metropolitan Council in 2013; and

Whereas, the TranSystem solution eliminates at-grade freight crossings in St. Louis Park at Wooddale Avenue and Belt Line Boulevard, thus reducing vehicular traffic congestion and improving overall safety; and

Whereas, at the planned Wooddale, and Belt Line LRT and Lake Street stations, the elimination of freight rail will better set the stage for full-scale transit-oriented development by improving connectivity, especially by improving conditions for pedestrians accessing the stations; and

Whereas, the TranSystems solution utilizes the Golden Auto site, which was remediated with public dollars to facilitate freight re-location; and

Whereas, the TranSystems solution preserves the 21st Street Station whereas the Shallow Tunnel option does not; and

Whereas, the Shallow Tunnel option includes two shallow tunnels with a 1,000 foot gap that co-locates freight, light rail, and the Kenilworth Trail; and

Whereas, the Kenilworth Corridor runs through the Grand Rounds and the Minneapolis Chain of Lakes, both of which are considered regional and national assets by the City of Minneapolis, the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board, and the Metropolitan Council Regional Parks Plan; and

Whereas, the TranSystems solution protects the existing character of the Kenilworth Corridor; and

Whereas, the TranSystems solution is the best resolution to this regional dilemma, because it shares the benefits and burdens of LRT across jurisdictions while the Shallow Tunnel option does not;

Now, Therefore, Be It Resolved by the City Council of the City of Minneapolis that the City of Minneapolis supports a municipal consent package containing a physical design component in the preliminary design plans that relocates freight out of the Kenilworth Corridor to allow for LRT to operate at-grade adjacent to the Kenilworth Trail with grade separation at Cedar Lake Road; and

Be It Further Resolved that the City of Minneapolis reaffirms the same position it has held since 2010, which is that the City of Minneapolis opposes co-location of both freight and LRT together in the Kenilworth Corridor, and this includes the Shallow Tunnels option.

Read the KIAA response to the Water Impact and Freight Rail Location Alternatives reports

Kenwood Isles Area Association wrote a response to the Southwest LRT planning office in response to the Water Resources and Freight Rail Location Alternatives reports released earlier this year.

Read an excerpt of the March 3rd letter below, or click here to read the full letter:

“Kenwood Isles Area Association (KIAA) renews its strong objection to routing both freight rail and light rail (LRT) in the Kenilworth Corridor.

KIAA, a totally volunteer neighborhood organization, has been involved in the discussions regarding the Southwest LRT project since before the LPA was chosen. We objected to that LPA for a variety of reasons but once chosen we shifted our focus to mitigating the effect of 220 trains traveling between two lakes and separating our neighborhood. Because members of the board, and numerous residents of the neighborhood, feel a strong sense of responsibility for our neighborhood and the environment, we have felt compelled to add our voices in defense of Minneapolis.”

Upcoming Southwest LRT Town Hall/Community Meetings–February 10 & 12

Metropolitan Council released two draft reports to examine important issues that affect the proposed
Southwest LRT.              

The draft reports include:

  • A study of the location of freight rail service
  • An analysis of potential impacts on water resources with light rail operating in shallow tunnels along the Kenilworth Corridor.

Click here to view the full draft reports.

The public is invited to Town Hall/Community Meetings to ask questions and share comments with Metropolitan Council members and Southwest LRT project staff.

Monday, February 10
6:00 – 9:10 p.m.
Dunwoody College of Technology, Decker Auditorium
818 Dunwoody Blvd., Minneapolis  Map
Park in west lot; enter via west entrance.

Wednesday, February 12  
6:00 – 9:10 p.m.
St. Louis Park Senior High School, Carl A. Holmstrom Auditorium
6425 West 33rd Street, St. Louis Park  Map 

Salon article cites Southwest Light Rail as an example of poor transit planning

Why mass transit is doomed in America: Politicians don’t know people who use it

Take Minneapolis, a decently dense city that could, and ought to, support a much more extensive mass transit system. The existing system, mainly buses and a light rail line, with more lines planned, is operated by a division of the Metropolitan Council, and, predictably, the council designs transit in a way that reflects the ostensible needs of the entire metro area, including suburbs that sprawl out miles beyond the city center. The result is a series of ambitious plans to build rail lines traveling from outside the city to downtown, while the urban bus system isunreliable, neglected and nearly impossible to navigate without extensive prior knowledge. Meanwhile, the light rail lines the council and the state are pressing forward with have been designed in a bizarre fashion, along low-traffic, low-density routes and ignoring the most dense and highly trafficked corridors in the city. The city government is now fighting with the council over its plan to put a streetcar line on one major urban avenue. The streetcar is probably not as good a solution as either improving bus service, on the cheap side, or creating a real subway or light rail line, on the more expensive, but it’s the only proposed transit expansion right now in the area designed to serve people who actually live in the city. Here, again, politicians don’t ride the bus, and likely know hardly anyone who does regularly.


Groups Unite in Open Letter to Governor Dayton

Below is the letter that several groups, including LRT Done Right, have sent to Governor Dayton.


Dear Governor Dayton,

We write this open letter as representatives of grassroots groups that represent residents who live near the proposed SWLRT line in Minneapolis and also many other concerned residents throughout the city and the Metro area.  We are collectively asking you to rethink the SWLRT commuter train alignment through Minneapolis.

We commend you for placing the temporary hold on this LRT project to address broken agreements and incomplete studies, related to moving the freight train and ensuring that shallow tunnels do not impact the water in the Kenilworth Greenway. We believe that the problems with this alignment go beyond the potential negative impacts to the environment and our park system. We believe this project does not meet the transit needs of Minneapolis and the region.  Our concerns include:

Cost.  Since the Kenilworth alignment was chosen four years ago, the price of the project has increased from $1.25 billion to $1.55 billion dollars.  With the increased price tag, now is the time to reexamine alternatives to find a better route for Minneapolis and the region.  As you know, this area of our state is not just a beloved part of our history; the Chain of Lakes is also one of the most visited areas in Minnesota. People come in from all around the metro, the state, and the country to use and appreciate this precious resource. Nationally prominent cities such as San Francisco or New York City do not devalue their emblematic parks in this way.

Changes in FTA criteria.  When the Kenilworth route was selected, the Bush Administration’s Federal New Starts program criteria heavily favored suburban growth over service to cities’ needs.  Travel-time savings for suburban commuters were given far more weight than transit access for urban employers and residents.  New FTA criteria give proper significance and value to density and urban transportation needs.

Land use.  In 2007, Minnetonka and Eden Prairie made it clear that running a train through recreational trails in their communities would be detrimental to their cities’ quality of life and limit development opportunities. Therefore, they would not accept this SWLRT alignment, and $300 million was added to the project to improve the alignment there. In Minneapolis, by contrast, a route was chosen that damages recreational and commuter trails and parkland, skirts transit-dependent communities, and ignores areas of density.  Running the train through a greenway limits transit oriented development within Minneapolis, which prevents the region from fully and equitably benefiting from this large, unprecedented investment.  It also skews development away from the city core and out into suburbs, stimulating suburban sprawl.

Ridership.  Though much has been made of the transit opportunities SWLRT could provide to historically underserved communities, the Met Council’s own analysis shows that fewer than 800 people per day by the year 2030 might use the two stations closest to North Minneapolis.  Combined, this is far fewer riders than at any other station along the line. This low ridership reflects the fact that the SWLRT barely reaches the very edge of North Minneapolis. Moreover, the ridership model favored by the Met Council/Project Office assumes that Minneapolitans would ride the train to entertainment venues in the southwest suburbs, while ignoring the fact that southwestern suburban residents work and play in Uptown, where entertainment abounds and parking is at a premium.

Cars off the road.   As planned, the SWLRT does not provide a significant reduction in traffic congestion within Minneapolis or on southwest freeways.  SWLRT would only replace approximately 8,000 car trips daily according to the DEIS (find it at, table 6.2-4).  Assuming that most commuters make a round-trip to work and back, that means that fewer than 4,000 cars would be taken off the road at rush hour by 2030.  To put that number in perspective, 132,000 vehicles used I-494 at Hwy 169 every day in 2012.  That is almost $387,000 per car off the road.

In light of the new information and developments, we believe a better route for Minneapolis and the region would be selected in an unbiased alternatives analysis study not controlled by vested interests.  We also support independent oversight of the remaining process to ensure the credibility of the results.

  • We encourage you to show your personal and political resolve to:
  • Protect significant natural and historical features
  • Safeguard the validity of the environmental protection process
  • Guarantee that urban neighborhoods with limited transit and high-density areas are truly served by     major projects, and not just tangentially;
  • Ensure transit is designed to create livable urban communities not just suburban thoroughfares;
  • Preserve and enhance walking and protected biking trails for commuting and recreation, with greenery, essential for urban health now and for future generations.

Like you, we are all supporters of public transit, but it has to be done right.  The Hiawatha and Central lines will provide urban development opportunities, connect transit-reliant communities with jobs, reduce congestion and have an overall positive impact on the regional environment. The current SWLRT alignment will provide few such benefits.  We strongly believe this is not the right or effective way to spend 1.55 billion dollars of limited taxpayer funds.


Thank you, Gov. Dayton, for your continued leadership on this important decision.



Calhoun Isles Condominium Association,

Board of Directors, Cedar Lake Shores Townhome Association,

Kenilworth Preservation Group (KPG),

LRT Done Right

CC:  Minneapolis City Council, Mayor RT Rybak, Metropolitan Council Members, Hennepin County Board Members, Minneapolis Park Board Members, Senator Scott Dibble, Representative Frank Hornstein, Mark Wegner

Sent to: Media

Official Comment Presented to the Metropolitan Council Transportation Committee by LRT Done Right

LRT Done Right organizer, Courtney Kiernat, presented the following remarks to the Metropolitan Council transportation committee that met on October 14th, 2013:

Thank you Met Council members. I am here today representing LRT Done Right, a grassroots community group that formed four months ago when it was announced that freight may not move from the Kenilworth Greenway. Our group initially focused on no colocation in the Kenilworth greenway but the more we learned, the more we realized that routing SWLRT through the Kenilworth Greenway is a mistake on many levels that go beyond freight rail.

When the initial SWLRT alignment vote was taken in 2009 by the Met Council, under the leadership of Chair Peter Bell, the council was split 8 to 8 with Chair Bell casting the deciding vote. At that time there was concern that the alignment posed too many unanswered questions, one being the issue of freight in the Kenilworth Greenway. Once again the council finds itself in the position of casting a vote for this project with significant and lingering questions. What is the impact on our regional assets- the chain of lakes, our limited urban green space and tree canopy and our treasured trail system that the Met Council has smartly prioritized in its Parks Report.

There are a number of significant factors that have changed since the original decision was made and Minneapolis approved the Kenilworth route. First the cost and complexity of dealing with freight is more-clear and second federal guidelines have changed dramatically. For example, travel-time savings, a critical factor in choosing the Kenilworth alignment, is no longer a critical factor in determining the quality of a route.

As Met Council members, you must weigh the consequences of pushing forward with this project that has blatantly disregarded the concerns of Minneapolis leaders and residents. Minneapolis leaders have been told to be a team player and consider the region as it relates to the current SWLRT route through the Kenilworth Greenway. So let’s look at the region of Hennepin County where all five cities on the route are located.

There is no doubt that SWLRT strongly serves and benefits the suburbs of Eden Prairie, St. Louis Park, Hopkins and Minnetonka. Those four suburbs constitute 81% of the projected ridership in 2030 but represent only 15% of Hennepin County’s population.

Minneapolis residents represent 33% of Hennepin County yet projected ridership at Minneapolis stations is only 19% of the total ridership. Compare that to Eden Prairie, 5% of Hennepin County’s population yet 24% of projected ridership. Eden Prairie also has multiple development opportunities along the line while Minneapolis stations provide limited development opportunities.

The lowest projected ridership by stations is Van White and Royalston, the two stations touted as serving north side residents, some of the most transit dependent residents in the region. Combined, these two stations are projected to be less than 1,000 riders in 2030, less than all the other individual stations along the route. Minneapolis residents are more apt to be transit dependent and/or live in poverty yet SWLRT will not directly serve them.

Minneapolis is being a team player. We’re demanding that our residents be better served by this 1.5 billion dollar project. We should not be told to take the burden with very little of the benefit for our residents.

SWLRT has the potential to be a regional asset but only if it is routed to actually serve Minneapolis residents. Otherwise it is an asset for suburban residents as it passes through Minneapolis. Smart regional transit at a $1.5 billion price tag should serve our region’s most densely populated city, diverse and transit dependent residents. This current alignment does not adequately serve these Minneapolis residents. Therefore, this SWLRT alignment does not equitably serve our region.

You are being asked to weigh a great deal of information, opinions and political pressure. We ask that you vote no on this plan and instead request a reexamination of the SWLRT route so that it better serves Minneapolis residents who would benefit greatly from SWLRT access and protects our regional assets including the Chain of Lakes and urban green space. You have the opportunity to leave a legacy of smart transit. We appreciate your willingness to take into consideration the impact SWLRT has on all players. Together our regional team can build a strong SWLRT transit system that preserves our regional assets and more equitably serves the region’s residents. Thank you

The Metropolitan Council transportation committee unanimously decided to advance the shallow tunnel plan, but without actually voting to endorse the plan. They have advanced the shallow tunnel recommendation for a vote at the full Metropolitan Council meeting on October 16th. Read more about this decision on Star Tribune.