County approves study of three Southwest light-rail routes

A Hennepin County board has approved pursuing an intensive round of studies for three proposed Southwest light-rail routes.

At its Feb. 13 meeting, the Hennepin County Regional Railroad Authority authorized staff to issue a request for proposals for environmental impact statements on the three routes.

The statements are expected to take a few years to complete, said study Manager Katie Walker, and the documents are required before projects can qualify for federal transportation funding.

“They don’t just mean natural environment. They’re also talking about traffic, noise, vibrations, aesthetics – it’s the whole gamut,” Walker said.

All three routes will pass through Southwest as they connect Eden Prairie and other suburbs to downtown Minneapolis. One of the key questions is how the light-rail line should be routed through Southwest neighborhoods.

Two of the proposed routes would have the train travel along the Kenilworth Corridor, between Lake of the Isles and Cedar Lake, through the Kenwood and Bryn Mawr neighborhoods.

Another possible direction would have the light rail run along the Midtown Greenway to Nicollet Avenue, then into Downtown via a shallow underground tunnel under Eat Street.

Several pros and cons were discussed at a public hearing in January. Some speakers were concerned construction on Nicollet Avenue would be too disruptive to businesses, many of which might not be served well because of the distance between stops. But others said that route would serve more activity hubs than would the Kenilworth option.

In the past, Bryn Mawr residents have supported the Kenilworth route, but its neighborhood board has not voted on an official position, Neighborhood Association Coordinator Vida Ditter said. Walker is scheduled to give a presentation to the neighborhood on March 14, after which the board may decide to vote whether to support a specific route. The meeting will be at 7 p.m. at Bryn Mawr Elementary School.

“The board has not taken direct action,” Ditter said. “I have no sense right now whether there is support or not for it.”

Kate Lynch, president of the East Isles Residents’ Association, said the neighborhood hasn’t taken a vote and doesn’t have a unified voice yet on which route it would prefer. She personally hears more support for placing the light rail on the Kenilworth Corridor and saving the Midtown Greenway for a streetcar line. The general perception is that streetcars would have less impact in terms of noise and green space, she said.

She hopes to find a volunteer to lead a committee that can discuss the light rail and other issues.

“We really need a transit committee because what happens on the greenway will largely affect our neighborhood,” Lynch said. Any residents interested should contact her at [email protected].

 

Reach Dan Haugen at 436-5088 or [email protected].