A popular bike and pedestrian trail will close for three years on May 13 and in the following weeks some 1,300 trees will be cut along the Kenilworth Corridor as construction begins on the Southwest Light Rail Transit (SWLRT) project.
The Kenilworth trail will close from the Midtown Greenway to West 21st Street in Cedar-Isles-Dean and Kenwood until 2022, according to SWLRT project manager Jim Alexander. The South Cedar Lake Trail, which connects to the Midtown Greenway in West Calhoun, will also close in Hopkins and St. Louis Park up to France Avenue.
“This whole bike trail business has been a big deal,” Alexander said. “We know there’s hardship. We have detours put out, we’re talking to the city. We’re going to all work through it.”
The 14.5-mile extension of the Green Line, connecting Minneapolis to Eden Prairie is expected to open in 2023.
The Metropolitan Council is planning to start felling trees in the Kenilworth Corridor despite a request from six local elected officials that the agency hold off until there is more certainty about the project’s ultimate fate.
Southwest legislators Sen. Scott Dibble (District 61) and Rep. Frank Hornstein (District 61A) joined Council Member Lisa Goodman (Ward 7) and Park Board Commissioners Jono Cowgill, Meg Forney and LaTrisha Vetaw in writing a letter to Metropolitan Council Chair Nora Slawik protesting cutting the trees before a full-funding contribution from the federal government is received.
“The bucolic character of this corridor is prized by many,” the letter reads. “In the event that SWLRT does not proceed for any reason, elimination of this unique, urban forest preserve and passageway would be a reckless and irreversible mistake.”
The Met Council has received a letter of no prejudice from the Federal Transit Administration, a move that serves as a de facto go-ahead to begin construction prior to the reception of a federal grant that will cover almost half the cost of the $2 billion project.
“We intend to keep moving,” Alexander said.
Alexander recalled being a manager on the initial Green Line project along University Avenue, when construction was ongoing for two years before the federal government released funds for the project.
“That’s standard operating procedure for the FTA,” he said, adding that any delays could increase cost.
Dibble, one of the signers of the letter to the Met Council, said he didn’t believe funding was a sure thing.
“We happen to be existing in the era of Trump, who hates transit,” he said. “Why don’t we just wait before we cut the trees down?”
The Met Council plans to remove 1,300 of the roughly 2,100 trees within the Kenilworth Corridor. Trees are already being marked for removal and felling efforts will be coordinated with the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board beginning May 13 and heading into June, Alexander said.
During construction, landscapers will plant 1,100 new smaller trees, 2,700 shrubs and more than 4,000 perennials. The trees will all be indigenous to Minnesota.
“We wanted to bring in native species,” Alexander said.
Plight of the bumblebee
Some residents along the corridor have raised objections to the project to protect another native species, the endangered Rusty Patched bumblebee. A supplemental environmental assessment released in February 2018 found trimming long grasses in the Kenilworth Corridor “may affect [but is] not likely to adversely affect” the endangered bee species.
Project spokesperson Trevor Roy said surveys done did not find the Rusty Patched bumblebee within the Kenilworth Corridor but the species has been recorded in the area. Early this spring, the Met Council began mowing grasses in an effort to prevent the bee and other pollinators from nesting in the corridor.
“The mowing and the clearing is to prevent them from being in an area where we may hurt them,” Roy said, adding that the Met Council has been working the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to mitigate harmful effects on animals.
“It’s basically ‘Let’s get rid of the habitat so they don’t use the habitat,’” said Jeanette Colby, who lives in the project area and is concerned about its environmental impact.
Tunnel, other early work
The Kenilworth Corridor is a small stretch of the 14.5-mile extension, but it’s the most technical portion of the project, with a planned half-mile-long tunnel, 10- to 40-feet below ground level, starting along the trail just north of the Lake Street bridge.
“That is kind of a critical path,” Alexander said.
There will be temporary fencing to ensure safety near existing freight rail service along the Kenilworth Corridor. That fencing work is likely to be done roughly in the same time frame as tree felling, Alexander said.
Officials said the project is working within city ordinances limiting work from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. and they do not anticipate noise or vibrations to exceed standard construction practices even with the tunneling process.
“It shouldn’t feel much different than the freight train that drives by right now,” Construction Director Brian Runzel said.
Alexander said they are trying to be “mindful” of the fact that work will be occurring more or less in the backyards of area residents.
“Construction is messy, and I think everyone needs to understand that,” Alexander said.
Some early work may begin on stations in Minneapolis this summer, Alexander said, primarily the digging of elevator pits for planned stations at West Lake Street and Bryn Mawr.
Zac Farber contributed reporting to this story.