City weighs in on Southwest LRT’s final environmental report

An illustration of the proposed West 21st Street Southwest LRT station between Cedar Lake and Lake of the Isles. Image courtesy of the Metropolitan Council

While city officials continue to support the proposed Southwest Light Rail Transit project, they reemphasized several concerns about the project in comments on the final environmental impact statement (FEIS).

Those concerns include freight rail safety, pedestrian connections along the line in the Kenilworth Corridor, potential construction impacts on residents, noise and the visual impact of the project on the corridor.

The Metropolitan Council is collecting comments on the FEIS until June 13. The City Council’s Transportation & Public Works Committee signed off on the city’s comments on the report Tuesday.

City staff reiterated that the Southwest Project Office must coordinate with the railroad to minimize the risk of derailment, particularly for trains carrying hazardous cargo.

The comments also emphasized that city leaders need to be involved in reviewing plans for the tunnel construction to minimize impacts on property owners and groundwater.

City Council Member Lisa Bender (Ward 10) also reminded Council members and staff during the committee meeting that the City Council previously passed a staff direction calling for a report outlining potential legal actions if new information shows direct or indirect impacts on the lakes during construction of the project.

“No one wants anything to happen to the lakes, but it’s such a high priority for everyone that I just wanted to restate that we had taken that action and we’re counting on everyone to stay on top of that issue,” she said.

Staff also stressed the importance of minimizing visual impacts and noise in the corridor — both when removing trees and post-construction when trains are running.

“The city looks forward to continued conversations with the Council, its contractors, and the community regarding the restoration of the corridor, and expects these measures to be fully implemented by the project,” staff wrote.

Meanwhile, project organizers are pushing for a special legislative session to secure $135 million in state funding for the $1.79 billion project. Without the funding, the project could be at risk of losing $895 million in matching funds.

A lawsuit is also pending claiming that the Met Council violated state and federal laws by choosing a final route for the project before completing the environmental review process.

Southwest LRT would link downtown Minneapolis with Eden Prairie. Service is expected to start in 2020 if it overcomes recent hurdles.

The City Council approved a preliminary design for the project Sept. 25, 2015.