SW light-rail architects back tunnel option

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Architects have endorsed a $100 million-plus plan to put Southwest Corridor light-rail trains in tunnels through a Minneapolis recreation area.

It was the first time they had backed one proposal over a competing plan ��� a $200 million proposal to reroute freight trains in St. Louis Park, which residents there strongly opposed.

At issue is what the Star Tribune notes is the biggest transit project ever in the metro, an ambitious $1.6 billion proposal that aims to bring light-rail to the southwest suburbs, linking downtown Minneapolis to Eden Prairie. The 15-mile, 17-stop Southwest Corridor light-rail aims to serve up to 30,000 riders a day.

The plan has been controversial, with recent debate focused on where to route it, so the architect recommendation gives the proposal some momentum.

But the plan still has a lot of track to cover before it is officially approved. An advisory board for the Southwest project is likely to vote Wednesday on whether to accept the tunnel option, or redirect the freight through St. Louis Park, MPR notes. If approved, the full Met Council could make a decision on it as early as next week, the Star Tribune notes.

From there, the city council would have to vote on it, and at least several city council members oppose digging 1.4-mile tunnels in the scenic Kenilworth Corridor in Minneapolis.

Council member and mayoral candidate Betsy Hodges said project planning is "almost scandalously flawed" and she wants to consider more light rail routes, MPR reports.

Project planners want to start construction in 2015. Delays would add about $50 million a year to the project price tag, they say.

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