Time for a new SW LRT alignment

With the release of new freight and tunnel studies, followed by TC&W Railroad Company’s swift conclusion that the re-route of freight is unfeasible, the SW LRT project is now at a critical decision point: To use tunnels to “co-locate” LRT and freight in the Kenilworth corridor — or to find a new alignment for a passenger rail line that has not yet been built. 

LRT Done Right (LRTDR) is a grass-roots organization formed last summer when the Met Council proposed co-location of freight and LRT in various forms in the Kenilworth Corridor.  These proposals flew in the face of the key underlying assumption of all planning up to that point, that freight would be re-routed. 

Having spent countless hours researching the actual details, LRTDR believes now is the time to find a new SWLRT alignment. The reasons for this are many.

SW LRT as planned does not significantly improve the area’s transportation capacity.  About three-fourths of the roughly 14,750 actual people (or about 29,500 one-way riders) projected to use the SW LRT are already riding a bus or carpooling.  For example, the Met Council is hoping to entice at least 50 percent of Southwest Transit express bus riders even though 99 percent those surveyed in April 2013 were satisfied with the service, and 75 percent said they would continue to prefer it over LRT if given the option.

Moreover, the proposed SW LRT route was designed under FTA transit criteria from almost a decade ago, which prioritizes time savings for suburban commuters over improved transit service for people making shorter trips.  FTA criteria were recently updated to give equal weight to more dense urban environments; the Kenilworth route fails to serve Minneapolis’ densely populated communities.

Much has been made of how the SW LRT will provide North Minneapolis transportation to jobs in the SW suburbs. In fact, the Met Council’s own estimates of riders who would use the northernmost Minneapolis stations (Royalston and Van White) by 2030 are by far the lowest of the whole line, less than 800 per day. These stations do not reach population centers in North Minneapolis, which is essential to making the line a convenient transit option for these urban communities.

Further, SW LRT as planned will not deliver positive environmental impacts according to the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (2012). For example, auto emissions will increase at heavily trafficked crossings along the route and at all SWLRT stations – especially those with park and ride facilities.  When air quality does improve around the year 2050, it will be due to tighter auto emissions standards, not because more people are riding the train.  In fact, assuming most people make round trips, this alignment will only get 4,000 cars off the road at rush hour by 2030.

The analysis that led to this alignment did not include the cost of the freight re-route, or as is being proposed now, the expense of shallow tunnels. The SWLRT Alternatives Analysis (2007) stated clearly that in order for LRT to use the Kenilworth Corridor, the freight rail must be moved.  Indeed, Minneapolis considered the freight re-route a foundational condition for its acceptance of the proposed Kenilworth alignment. But, in 2009, Hennepin County recommended the route without an understanding of the actual costs and feasibility – both practical and political – of moving freight out of the Kenilworth corridor.

The attempt by SWLRT planners to keep freight and add LRT to the Kenilworth shows a disregard for the City of Minneapolis and its citizens. Considering the failure to plan for the re-route of freight, coupled with current information about demographic changes, actual auto use data, ridership projections and urban growth patterns, the time is now for SWLRT planners to select a better alignment that will result in a more effective use of our limited transportation dollars.

Rather than break public trust by forcing a failure in Minneapolis or St Louis Park, planners must find a new alignment that maximizes the potential of this $1.55 billion taxpayer investment and serves all municipalities effectively and equitably.

Patty Schmitz
On behalf of LRT Done Right