With construction of the Southwest Light Rail Transit project posed to start along the Kenilworth Trail in the next few months, many residents of the Kenwood and Cedar-Isles-Dean neighborhoods are frustrated.
“You’re talking to a community that doesn’t want this to happen,” Lynn Blumenthal told the project’s staff on March 20 as a crowd of about 100 of her neighbors applauded. “We’re angry that it’s being shoved down the community’s throat.”
Representatives of the SWLRT project attempted to reassure residents, answering questions about construction noise, property damage, vibration frequencies, road closures, parking impact and continuity of emergency services.
SWLRT staff promised that during the six months when Cedar Lake Parkway is closed, access will be maintained via the Burnham Road bridge. Should noise or vibration levels exceed a pre-specified level, they said, construction will stop. Workers will park on the job site, not local roads. And soil from the Kenilworth tunnel will be hauled out via Linden Yards to minimize traffic complications.
But these promises didn’t assuage the most vocal of the area’s residents, who have been organizing for more than half a decade against the Metropolitan Council’s decision to route the 14.5-mile light rail line through their neighborhood.
As their battle against the Met Council nears an end, they are being forced to face what the coming multi-year construction project will mean for their streets, their homes and their daily lives. In the next few weeks, workers will begin clearing brush and cutting down trees on the Kenilworth Trail.
“Construction is a messy process no matter where you go,” Community Outreach Coordinator David Davies said.
Mary Pattock, the chair of the Cedar-Isles-Dean Neighborhood Association, said people were worried about “everything from traffic congestion to damage to their homes.” She was particularly bothered by the possibility of slower ambulance and fire service.
“You are going to be closing off this, that and the other street,” she said. “There is not a person in this room who believes it is possible to have the same level of emergency service, and it is most disappointing that you’re saying, ‘We’re the government, trust us.’”
Pattock was also concerned about whether pre-construction home surveys invaded residents’ privacy and whether they would receive fair compensation for property damage from the Met Council’s contractor.
“The pre-construction house inspections are problematic both from the standpoint of security and conflict of interest in the adjudication process,” she said.
Jim Nikora expects to be “bombarded with loud noise” once construction starts, but he’s more worried about what vibrations will do to the structure of his building, the Calhoun-Isles Condos.
“Each floor is a big pancake of concrete suspended by high-tension cables,” Nikora said. “If you put a vibration in that rigid tower, it starts vibrating and creating a resonance that, as it goes up, gets more and more intense.”
The Kenilworth Tunnel will be dug within two feet of the foundation of the Calhoun-Isles Condos, and an Itasca Consulting Group study commissioned by the condo association found that the building, a converted grain elevator, is highly susceptible to vibrations. Lee Petersen, Itasca’s principal engineer, has told a legislative commission that light rail construction could exceed acceptable vibration levels at the condominium and questioned whether Met Council engineers underestimated the challenges the building presents in their report.
Sen. Scott Dibble (DFL-Minneapolis) and Rep. Frank Hornstein (DFL-Minneapolis) have sponsored bills to require additional study and the reimbursement of the Calhoun-Isles Condominium Association for its engineering and legal costs.
SWLRT Construction Director Brian Runzel called the Calhoun-Isles Condos “one of our top concerns” and noted that crews would construct the tunnel using a technique known as hydraulic press-in, which generates significantly less vibration than traditional pile driving.
“This is a difficult engineering challenge,” he said. “We’ve done some extra testing on the building to make sure we understand how it will respond. All buildings have what’s called resonance frequencies. … We are going to monitor those frequencies to make sure we don’t have problems.”
This explanation wasn’t enough to persuade Jim Nikora’s wife, Nancy.
“We’re concerned about protecting what we have,” she said. “They say, ‘You don’t need a Plan B, everything will be fine, don’t worry about it,’ but that’s not very reassuring.”
Hennepin County Commissioner Marion Greene took flack from her Kenwood and Cedar-Isles-Dean constituents for her support of the Met Council’s lobbying efforts on behalf of the SWLRT project and her refusal to pledge, as Dibble and Hornstein have, to oppose the project should it necessitate the demolition of the Calhoun-Isles Condos.
“I pledge to take no pledge,” she said. “I feel the frustration of the CIDNA and Kenwood neighborhoods and the frustration of the neighborhoods along Hennepin and Lyndale avenues who are like, ‘Why isn’t this light rail going near us?’ But I do believe our region needs light rail. … You should know that my district is 55 precincts and most of those precincts want light rail.”
The Met Council is waiting on a full-funding grant agreement from the Federal Transit Administration before beginning construction on the transit line that will connect downtown Minneapolis to Eden Prairie.
Sandra Denman, who lives near Cedar Lake East Beach on Upton Avenue, is dismayed that “the wildness” of her neighborhood’s prairie land will soon be spoiled by cement. She said she came to the March 20 meeting to register her disapproval.
“I don’t think I’m going to change anything though,” she said. “It’s too late.”