Transit planners reaffirm shallow tunnels for Southwest LRT

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Transit planners Monday reaffirmed their recommendation to run the proposed Southwest Corridor light rail line in shallow tunnels through the Kenilworth corridor in Minneapolis, despite opposition from city leaders and many residents of the neighborhood.

Two tunnels would be built under the recreational trail, with the light rail trains emerging for about 20 seconds between them on a new bridge over the channel between Cedar Lake and Lake of the Isles. Another option would have a deeper tunnel built underneath the channel.

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The recommendation came at a closed-door meeting at the Capitol with Dayton and key Minneapolis and suburban leaders, the Star Tribune reports.

"The recommendation preserves homes, businesses, a trail used by over a half-million pedestrians and cyclists a year through the Kenilworth neighborhood, and railroad tracks used by freight trains carrying commodities for shippers in more than two dozen west-central Minnesota farming communities," the Metropolitan Council said in a statement announcing the recommendation. The council is the agency in charge of the transit project.

The plan is the same one that was approved by a panel of metro leaders last fall that Dayton put on hold in response to complaints by the city of Minneapolis, according to the Star Tribune.

Minneapolis wants the freight trains to be rerouted to St. Louis Park to make room for the light rail trains to run above ground. But St. Louis Park doesn’t want the freight trains, and Hopkins, Minnetonka and Eden Prairie — the other suburbs along the future line — appear to be allied with St. Louis Park, the Star Tribune reports.

The panel of metro leaders is set to vote Wednesday on a plan for the project, and that recommendation will be forwarded to the full Met Council, which is expected to approve a plan at its April 9 meeting. Monday's announcement makes it more likely that the Met Council will approve the tunnel alignment.

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“We have a wealth of information about this project and now is the time to use that information to make a decision that moves this project forward,” said Metropolitan Council Chair Susan Haigh. “What we’re hearing now from residents is they need us to make decision so they can move forward with their lives and help to ready their neighborhoods for light rail.”

Transit planners also recommend extending the Southwest line and building an additional station in Eden Prairie, which would increase the cost of the project to $1.67 billion. The trains would begin operations in 2019.

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