Transportation Roundup

Airport noise meeting draws hundreds

Hundreds of residents turned out for Mayor R.T. Rybak’s airport noise meeting held at Richfield Lutheran Church on June 27. They stood in a line wrapped around the block simply to get into the building and filled the worship center, sitting in pews or on the floor, and leaning against the walls. Council Members Betsy Hodges, Scott Benson and Elizabeth Glidden joined Rybak at the head of the church as the mayor gave an overview of the proposed settlement from a class-action lawsuit between the Metropolitan Airports Commission (MAC) and nearby homeowners.

The settlement comes after years of waiting for the MAC to provide noise mitigation to homes within a certain distance from the Minneapolis/St. Paul airport. Several homeowners filed a class action suit against the MAC in 2005, as did the cities of Minneapolis, Richfield and
Eagan. On June 1, the MAC reached a settlement agreement with the homeowners, which would provide roughly 4,400 homes with noise mitigation products. But those involved with the cities’ lawsuit — including Rybak — believe that they could get an even larger settlement that would include more residents. The catch is that homeowners may have to choose one settlement over the other, and the cities have yet to reach one.

“Legally, I can’t stand up here and tell you what to do,” Rybak said. “It’s up to you to decide.”

According to Merland Otto, a principle planner for Minneapolis who spoke at the meeting, the cities need to develop their own settlement proposal. “It’s going to be less than ‘the full package for everyone,’” he said.

Residents under the homeowner’s class-action suit will also receive less than the full five-decibel package, which includes free central air conditioning, new windows and insulation.

Carolyn Anderson, one of the attorneys representing the homeowners, explained that, should the residents take the settlement, they would get free central air and $1,750 of additional benefits. Those homeowners wouldn’t have accepted the settlement if there wasn’t a chance of losing in trial, she added.

Much of the confusion surrounding the lawsuits deals with two different Day-night Noise Level (DNL) maps, which is how Federal Aviation Administration measures noise around airports. The homeowners are using a map from 2007, which covers 4,400 residents, whereas the cities are using a map from 2005, which includes 8,100 residents. The variation in size stems from a decrease in noise due to quieter airplanes.

Rybak encouraged everyone at the meeting to e-mail him comments about the homeowners’ proposed settlement and let him know what they would like to receive in the cities’ settlement from the MAC. The cities will submit their settlement offer by July 23 and expect to reach a court decision by the end of the summer.

Those who are eligible for the homeowner’s settlement will get a notice in the mail by mid-August and, shortly afterward, can attend a public hearing. In September, Judge Stephen Aldrich, who is presiding over the case, will determine whether the settlement is fair, adequate and reasonable.

Central Corridor LTR hires new staff, consultant

The Central Corridor Light Rail Transit (LTR) Project has hired four multilingual outreach coordinators to work with community members who live and work along the planned line, which stretches along University Avenue from Downtown Minneapolis to Downtown St. Paul. They’ll collect feedback about issues such as station design, traffic and safety. Collectively, the group speaks seven different languages, including Swahili, French, Somali, American Sign Language, Hmong and Spanish.

In mid-June, the Central Corridor LTR Project hired engineering firm DMJM Harris to conduct a preliminary engineering study. The New York-based consultant has worked on light rails projects in states like New Jersey, Texas, and California and has negotiated a contract for up to $35.5 million with the Metropolitan Council. The study will help the council determine where to locate stations and how to how to reduce overall costs. Currently, the project is estimated at $1 billion, but must be $200 million less to get federal approval in 2009. Construction is expected to begin in 2010 and finish by 2014.

Reach Mary O’Regan at [email protected] or 436-5088.