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St. Louis Park residents protest plan for Southwest LRT

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Residents in St. Louis Park spoke out Wednesday night against a proposed plan for the $1.25 billion Southwest Light Rail Transit line that would run between Minneapolis and Eden Prairie, MPR reports.

Although some support the light rail that includes three stops in St. Louis Park, residents packed city hall to object to a proposal that would reroute mile-long freight trains to make room for the new line.

The Star Tribune says more than 300 people attended the meeting, and a third of those protested outside beforehand. Some threatened lawsuits.

The main concerns are noise and traffic safety the additional trains would bring. Residents already experience about two trains per day, if the trains were rerouted, that number would increase to about six to eight trains.

Another meeting for public input on the draft environmental impact statement is scheduled for Nov. 29 at the Eden Prairie City Hall.

Construction for the Southwest LRT line is slated for 2015 and is tentatively planned to open in 2018.

The Patch has video of protestors lined up outside city hall:

With strong words and threats of lawsuits, more than 300 people packed St. Louis Park City Hall on Wednesday, most of them to convince Hennepin County and Metropolitan Council officials not to send freight trains through their neighborhoods.

To make room for a proposed Southwest light-rail line, officials want to reroute freight trains now going through Minneapolis to St. Louis Park instead. More than 100 protesters gathered outside City Hall before Wednesday's meeting -- the second of three public hearings that Hennepin County is holding this month to hear from residents on the possible environmental impacts the Southwest line could have on the five cities it would go through if approved.

"The reason we're all worked up is they haven't been receptive to our concerns," St. Louis Park resident Brian Zachek said. "If it derailed, it would tumble literally on top of us."

Zachek lives about 34 feet from freight train tracks that about two trains use each day. If freight trains that currently go by Minneapolis near the affluent Kenwood neighborhood are rerouted through his neighborhood, he said six to eight more trains would go by a day, increasing noise and safety risks.

While the 15-mile line will go through Minneapolis, St. Louis Park, Hopkins, Minnetonka and Eden Prairie, he said he and his neighbors will shoulder the worst effects of all. "We think it's a bad plan altogether," he said.

More than 25 residents, city and community leaders addressed the three county commissioners -- Jan Callison, Peter McLaughlin and Gail Dorfman -- nearly all speaking against rerouting the trains, calling it "irrational" and "unconscionable."

"I'd like to understand how this will be a win-win for St. Louis Park," said Thom Miller, co-chair of Safety in the Park, a group of residents opposed to the rerouting. He said the county, Met Council and city should expect a lawsuit if the rerouting is approved. "It's not a win-win; it's a lose-lose."

Miller presented a petition with more than 1,500 signatures from those opposed to the plan. Keeping the freight trains in Minneapolis running next to a light-rail line, or co-location, is more feasible and $123 million cheaper, he said.

One of the few people to speak in support of the rerouting, Greg Hannon of St. Louis Park, was booed when he said he thinks other residents have politicized the issue and are just concerned about their property values going down.

"To me this is a simple economic issue," he said. "They're simply trying to protect their investment."

Construction on the $1.25 billion project is slated to start in 2015, with the line opening in 2018. On Wednesday, commissioners didn't respond to comments. But before the meeting, McLaughlin asked for civility during the emotional discussion.

"I know there are strong feelings on both sides of the issue," he said.

Hennepin County will continue to accept feedback until Dec. 11 on the draft environmental impact statement, which was released last month. A final environmental impact statement, which will give more detailed effects on communities and solutions to mitigate problems, will be released by the Met Council.

The decision whether to reroute freight trains rests with the Met Council.

ST. LOUIS PARK, Minn. — As plans for a third light rail line move forward in the Twin Cities, some people who live along the proposed route between Minneapolis and Eden Prairie are concerned about their quality of life.

It was standing room only Wednesday night at St. Louis Park City Hall as residents spoke out against plans for the Southwest Corridor line. But it isn't light rail that worries them, it's heavy freight trains that would be rerouted there.

Just before the second of three public hearings on the light rail, Jami LaPray stood at a table in the lobby of St. Louis Park City Hall and worked the crowd. She wore a bright orange T-shirt with a graphic of two intersecting train tracks and the name of her grassroots community group, Safety in the Park.

LaPray is quick to say that she wants light rail in St. Louis Park. Her concern is a plan to move more freight trains through town to make way for the new line.

"When those mile-long trains go by, there'll be six crossings within a two-mile area that'll all be closed simultaneously, cutting off emergency vehicles, making it difficult to move around St. Louis Park," LaPray said. "If the trains happen to be going by when school lets out or is starting, it's going to disrupt bus schedules."

Freight trains already travel through St. Louis Park but they're relatively short ones, about 30 cars long, and they run about twice daily along a connector line. New plans call for four trains a day, at least 50 cars long and possibly longer.

Al Boyce of St. Louis Park also says he supports the Southwest Corridor Light Rail project. But at Wednesday's meeting he stood outside city hall with dozens of other protestors who were upset with the plans.

Boyce lives a block and a half away from the freight lines and said putting longer trains on the existing right of way would be disastrous.

"The railroad that goes through St. Louis Park was never meant for this kind of traffic. It meanders and goes within 50 feet of some homes," Boyce said. "To remediate it properly they would have to take out vast swaths of St. Louis Park homes to make a corridor wide enough for this to occur."

Boyce said an existing right-of-way near Cedar Lake is wide enough for both heavy and light rail, and planners should give that route more consideration. That would keep heavy freight trains in an area that was designed for them and not the heart of St. Louis Park, he said.

But Hennepin County Commissioner Peter McLaughlin said putting a sleek new public transit system alongside lumbering freight trains could create other problems.

"Juxtaposing freight rail and light rail cars, it's very different technology," McLaughlin said. "There are safety standards that make it very difficult to do that. There are park concerns as well."

But nothing is set in stone, said Katie Walker, Southwest Light Rail coordinator for Hennepin County. The plans up for discussion now are merely proposals, she said.

"We want the public to come out, weigh in. What are the impacts, what's the potential mitigation," Walker said. "As the project moves forward, we can figure out what are the best solutions to make sure that we maximize the benefits for this project and we minimize the impacts."

The public will have another chance to comment on the draft environmental impact statement Nov. 29 at Eden Prairie City Hall.

The Southwest Corridor project is expected to cost $1.25 billion, half of which would come from the federal government.

If Congress, and state and local governments OK the money and the Metropolitan Council sorts out the details of which trains go where, the Southwest Corridor light rail line could open in 2018.

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