Met Council to host town hall on light rail mitigation plan

Community input sought on plans to limit the impacts on a historic railway corridor

The Metropolitan Council plans a March town hall meeting to gather public input on plans to mitigate the adverse impact of the Southwest Light Rail Transit project on an historic railroad corridor.

Met Council announced the March 22 event at Dunwoody College on Friday, the same day it released a supplemental environmental assessment on the SWLRT project. The report analyzes the environmental impact of 10 significant modifications to the light rail project made since the Federal Transit Administration issued the final environmental impact statement on SWLRT in May 2016.

It wasn’t until more than a year later, in August 2017, that Met Council negotiated a memorandum of understanding with BNSF railway to run light rail trains through the BNSF-owned Wayzata Subdivision, located just west of downtown Minneapolis. As part of the agreement, BNSF demanded a barrier to separate freight from light rail traffic, leading SWLRT planners to add a 10-foot-high, mile-long crash wall.

The Wayzata Subdivision makes up a small section of the St. Paul, Minneapolis & Manitoba Railroad/Great Northern Railway Historic District, which has been deemed eligible for placement on the National Register of Historic Places. The entire historic railway corridor extends 205 miles from Minneapolis to the North Dakota border.

In November, FTA determined the addition of the crash wall and a new storage area for Northstar Commuter Rail trains would have an “adverse effect” on the historic district — adding a new physical and visual barrier where there previously was not one and widening the historic cut of the railway trench. Historic retaining walls and earthen embankments will be destroyed by construction.

Met Council, the state Historic Preservation Office, the city and the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board began consulting in November on how to mitigate the impact of the changes. A draft mitigation plan is expected this spring, according to the Met Council.

The supplemental environmental assessment also found the crash wall would have a “moderate degree” of visual impact — one felt mostly by recreational trail users — and a small but “negligible” effect on the noise heard by nearby residents. Bryn Mawr residents raised concerns last fall that the crash wall could reflect the noise of freight rail trains into their neighborhood.

A noise study completed since then predicts an increase in noise of 0–0.4 decibels north of the tracks. The supplemental environmental assessment notes changes of less than 3 decibels typically “are not perceptible in … outdoor locations.” South of the tracks, the Interstate-394 bridge is expected to act as a noise barrier.

The SWLRT project is a 14.5-mile extension of the METRO Green Line from Minneapolis to Eden Prairie. Completion of the supplemental environmental assessment is one of the final steps required for Met Council to submit a full-funding grant agreement to the FTA later this year. Federal funds are expected to cover about half the cost of the $1.9-billion project.