Light rail crash wall requires environmental review

Met Council officials are unsure if or how long it will delay the SWLRT project

A mile-long crash wall added late this summer to the Southwest Light Rail Transit project will require additional environmental review, the Metropolitan Council announced Tuesday.

Met Council spokeswoman Kate Brickman said the Federal Transit Administration informed the agency Monday that it would require a supplemental environmental assessment on the so-called “corridor protection” wall planned for a portion of the future SWLRT corridor in Minneapolis. That portion of the corridor is owned by BNSF railway, and in exchange for its use the company demanded a wall separating light rail and freight rail traffic.

“At this point, we don’t know what, if any, impact this will have on the construction timeline,” Brickman wrote in an email. “We will be discussing this further with FTA and our project partners.”

The news was cheered by state Rep. Frank Hornstein, who was among the local elected officials calling on Met Council to conduct an environmental review of the wall. Hornstein had been critical of a Met Council-led process that he described as “ad hoc” and lacking in public oversight.

“I do feel this affirmed our basic contention that more study needs to be done,” he said.

Hornstein, whose district includes the railroad corridor, noted there was already a petition circulating to have Met Council complete an environmental assessment worksheet on the wall. Under Minnesota law, such a petition would require 100 signatures for review by the state’s Environmental Quality Board.

Hornstein said Tuesday the petition had more than 50 signatures and that he was looking into whether the state process would lead to a more rigorous review than the supplemental environmental assessment asked for by FTA.

“I would favor whatever the most stringent process is,” he said.

Met Council officials have said they always planned for some type of barrier along the shared corridor, known as the Wayzata Subdivision, and that after talks with BNSF they agreed to lengthen and connect a series of shorter walls. As planned now, the crash wall would run roughly between Interstate 394 and Interstate 94.

Met Council’s shared-use agreement with BNSF also calls for the agency to build a new tail track in the corridor for parking Northstar Commuter Rail trains in between trips to Big Lake. That will require a widening of the corridor and other changes.

The Wayzata Subdivision is just part of a much longer railroad corridor that the Minnesota Department of Transportation has determined is eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places. Earlier in November, the FTA informed Met Council it would have to mitigate the “adverse effects” of those changes.