While there are still plenty of issues up in the air surrounding rail in the area, the St. Louis Park City Council on Monday started the planning process for three light-rail stations slated to come to the community—with step one being the creation of local advisory committees.
Though no formal actions have been taken yet, the council seemed supportive of the idea to create three separate neighborhood advisory committees that would focus on design guidelines for the three stations—scheduled to be built at Beltline Boulevard, Wooddale Avenue and Louisiana Avenue, all near Highway 7. The stops would be part of the proposed Southwest Light Rail Transit line, which will connect the Twin Cities with Eden Prairie via the west metro.
If everything stays on target, construction of the $1.25 billion line will start in 2015 and it will open in 2018. The Federal Transit Authority recently gave the OK for the project to —a critical step in keeping to the timeline.
Council members said creating advisory committees made up of nearby residents and business owners is important because it gives the city a chance to get out in front of what these stations will look like—and how they’ll impact the community.
“It’s our brand,” Councilwoman Sue Santa said.
But there are still plenty of questions about the process. For one, the Met Council gave the city a grant to study the Beltline station, but not for the other two. The Met Council is expected to fund them eventually, however.
Additionally, the station locations are not set in stone. In part, this is because a tricky freight rail reroute issue in St. Louis Park has not yet been resolved.
The light rail plan calls for commuter trains to run through Minneapolis’ Kenilworth Corridor, but a freight line already resides there. One proposal has called for those freight trains to be relocated to a line that runs through the heart of St. Louis Park. The majority of the council opposes that plan, instead pushing for freight and light rail to exist together in the Kenilworth Corridor.
When a decision will get made—and who exactly will make it—remains unclear. The Hennepin County Regional Rail Authority, which is made up of Hennepin County commissioners, has seemed supportive of the reroute idea, but no formal vote has been taken.
Commissioner Gail Dorfman, who represents St. Louis Park, said the HCRRA will likely discuss the matter in more detail in October, but she added that she doesn’t know what action—if any—will be taken then.
Dorfman did say that rerouting the trains seems to make more sense than leaving them in the Kenilworth Corridor.
“It's hard to see how co-location is good for St. Louis Park,” the commissioner said in an email, adding it would create traffic problems at the new light-rail stations because freight traffic would be coming into town near the light-rail line.
Dorfman also expressed frustration at a in August in connection to the freight rail reroute process.
“(The appeal) has hindered our opportunity to work with them to jointly develop a robust mitigation plan for the neighborhoods impacted by the freight rail relocation,” she said. “The sooner we develop a city-county freight rail mitigation plan, the better for both the impacted neighborhoods and for the LRT project. The delay caused by the appeal is unfortunate. It … could take nine to 12 months.”
Mayor Jeff Jacobs countered by saying he doesn’t see why the appeal process can’t play out separately in court while the two sides meet.
“I don’t know why it would be throwing a wrench into anything,” he said. “We could certainly be having a discussion (with the county) on resolving (the freight rail issue).”