Met Council, Park Board reach agreement on SWLRT

In a memorandum of understanding, Park Board agrees to a bridge over Kenilworth Channel and a more prominent role in light rail planning

The Park Board has tentatively agreed to a new set of bridges over Kenilworth Channel for Southwest Light Rail Transit trains. Credit: File photo

The Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board and Metropolitan Council announced a tentative agreement Friday regarding the Southwest Light Rail Transit line’s crossing of Kenilworth Channel.

The Park Board now supports running light rail trains on a bridge over the channel, according to a proposed memorandum of understanding with Met Council. In exchange, the Park Board will have a move direct role in the bridge design and future light rail projects. Met Council agreed to reimburse the Park Board for half of the $500,000 it spent studing options for tunneling beneath the channel.

“Thanks to the diligent work of the Park Board and project engineers, we now have a path forward for this critically important transit investment, which is a vital link in the 21st century transit system we will build here in the greater Twin Cities metro,” said Council Chair Adam Duininck in a statement. “The Council is pleased to have the Park Board’s support for bridging the channel.” 

After two phases of studies into alternatives, Park Board and Council engineers concluded either of the Park Board’s two tunnel options would significantly add to the cost and time to the project.

Cost and timing concerns due to the board’s studies have drawn controversy. Last month, Gov. Mark Dayton proposed cutting the board’s funding by $3.77 million due to concerns over delays to the project. 

The Park Board would have a more prominent role in future light rail projects such as the Bottineau Transitway as part of the MOU. For Park Board President Liz Wielinski, the reason for the dispute between the two parties came about because the board is independent from the city and is often consulted at the very end of the Met Council’s 4(f) process, she said. Going forward, the board would have the ability come in earlier and voice environmental concerns.

“When these jams come about… you come out with a better way to do things in the future,” Wielinski told the Southwest Journal Friday. “It’s unlikely to come up with Bottineau.”

The Met Council will use the board’s studies in its 4(f) analysis, which is addressed in the Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement, according to a board release.

The Park Board is expected to take up the memorandum of understanding at its March 4 meeting. The agreement goes before the Met Council March 11.

“We have received a lot of new information this month from our consultants and the Metropolitan Council. The Park Board is very optimistic about the new, more collaborative efforts for the ongoing work on the Southwest Light Rail, the Bottineau Line and any future mass transit that may impact parkland in the metro area,” said Park Board President Liz Wielinski. “Our thanks go to Chair Duininck for his leadership in moving this forward.”

 

The MOU includes language calling on both groups, according to the board release:

The MOU calls for the Metropolitan Council to:

  • Work together with the Park Board on design considerations offered by the Park Board in the final engineering and design of the bridges over the Kenilworth Channel;
  • Change project office policy to engage the Park Board more directly in the Southwest LRT project and earlier in any light rail projects that involve park land.

The MOU calls for the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board to:

  • Work with Metropolitan Council earlier in the planning process to identify potential Section 4(f) impacts for park and recreational areas within its jurisdiction;
  • Collaborate more closely with the Council on design principles and final design and engineering of the bridges over the Kenilworth Channel.