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Southwest LRT Alignment

Recent Updates

SW LRT Update – April 24, 2014: 

Former board President Bob Corrick and Board Member John Dewitt recently wrote a Star Tribune piece focusing on the "Network Alignment" of SW LRT combined with a Streetcar on the Greenway. They argue for the important role of transit in the future of Minneapolis and the interface with bicyclists and pedestrians. 

Read their piece here: SW LRT: Shaping Minneapolis' Future.

Relevance of Southwest LRT Alignment to the Midtown Greenway

For many years, the Midtown Greenway Coalition has advocated for streetcars in the Midtown Greenway alongside the cycling and walking trails. The outcome of the current Southwest LRT (SW LRT) route alignment discussions will have an enormous impact on the vision for streetcars in the Greenway as well as the character of the Midtown Greenway as a GREENway and functional bikeway, with some possible outcomes great and some very problematic. 

Of the two possible routes for the SW LRT once it enters Minneapolis on its way downtown from the suburbs, the one that passes through the Greenway to Nicollet Avenue is not favored by the Midtown Greenway Coalition. This Greenway/Nicollet route would block the bike trail in the Greenway, requiring bikers, joggers and walkers to come up out of the Greenway, cross Nicollet Avenue, and then go back down into the Greenway. In addition, 60% to 80% of the south bank of the Greenway west of Nicollet Avenue would be replaced with a high concrete retaining wall. This alignment of the SW LRT would preclude a streetcar in the Greenway that would serve all of the Greenway/Lake St. neighborhoods. 

The alternative route for the SW LRT runs through the Kenilworth Corridor between Cedar Lake and Lake of the Isles. The Kenilworth route, in combination the Midtown Greenway streetcar, is what we call the "Network Alignment." The Network Alignment would serve more Minneapolis residents, employment centers, business nodes, and neighborhoods, and better promote transit-oriented development, than the SW LRT following the Greenway/Nicollet route. The Midtown Greenway Coalition favors the Network Alignment. What's more, the Greenway/Nicollet route would cost $500 to $600 million more than the Kenilworth route, and at least $400 million more than the whole Network Alignment. This means that many more Minneapolis neighborhoods could be served by rail transit at a much much lower cost with the Network Alignment, and the Greenway could stay a GREENway.

Southwest Light Rail Alignment

In 2006, HCRRA began evaluating alternative alignments for the Southwest LRT line which would run from downtown Minneapolis to Eden Prairie. The alignment choices from Lake Street, just northwest of Lake Calhoun, to downtown Minneapolis are of particular concern to those involved with the Midtown Greenway. By late summer, 2009, just two alignments remained in play and the Southwest Corridor Project Advisory Committee (PAC) is evaluating them while a third option, the Network Alignment, has been proposed by the Midtown Greenway Coalition and the Midtown Community Works Partnership.

Kenilworth, officially 3A, utilizes the Kenilworth Corridor which runs between Lake of the Isles and Cedar Lake. It leaves the rail corridor near Royalston Avenue to loop around the garbage burner before connecting to existing Hiawatha light rail tracks.

Nicollet, officially 3C-2, is routed east through the Midtown Greenway to Nicollet Avenue where it turns north and enters a tunnel extending from the Greenway to near Franklin Avenue. It then crosses I-94 and turns northwest onto a one-way pair on 11th and 12th Streets. After crossing I-394, the tracks proceed north on Royalston to follow the same route as Kenilworth. The Nicollet tunnel would actually be located somewhere between Blaisdell and 1st Avenues.

The Network Alignment would utilize the Kenilworth alignment for light rail combined with a streetcar line in the Midtown Greenway. A streetcar cannot be included as a part of the Southwest LRT project because of Federal Transit Administration guidelines.

The Southwest LRT line could be open as soon as 2015-2016, just a year or two after the Central Corridor light rail line is scheduled to open. Choosing the Nicollet alignment would most likely preclude construction of any rail transit in the Greenway east of Nicollet. The Coalition believes that a streetcar line in the Greenway could be implemented even before construction of the SW LRT line. This is important as development is occurring at a rapid pace along the Greenway and rail transit would encourage development in a more bike, ped, and transit friendly form.

To view a comprehensive paper explaining why the Coalition prefers the Network Alignment over the Nicollet alignment, click here. Much more information on the Southwest corridor is also available at www.southwesttransitway.org.

Metropolitan Council and Midtown Greenway Coalition Partnership

The Met Council, our regional government, is responsible for transit planning in the 7 county metropolitan area and it also controls the transit system, Metro Transit. In 1999, the Minnesota Legislature provided funding to the Met Council for construction of a busway in the Twin Cities region. The Midtown Greenway Corridor was chosen. Neighborhood opposition stopped construction.

Many of the actions described below were collaborative efforts of the Met Council, the Hennepin County Regional Railroad Authority, and/or the Midtown Greenway Coalition. They were all driven by the Coalition so it seems appropriate to list them here.

  • MGC, interested in a constructive alternative to the proposed busway, adopted a resolution in 1999 opposing buses in the Greenway but supporting rail transit (either streetcars or LRT) instead. To read that resolution, click here.
  • Appalled by the thought of a 28 foot wide asphalt busway through the Greenway, the Midtown Greenway Coalition and local citizens confronted elected and appointed officials at a public meeting in January 2000.  At this public meeting a commitment was made by the Met Council to study streetcars for the Greenway as an alternative to buses.  In the year 2000 this study was undertaken cooperatively by the Met Council and the HCRRA.
  • The Coalition was dissatisfied with two assumptions in the Met Council/County study: 1) that it must be double track all the way, thereby unnecessarily escalating costs and environmental impacts; and 2) that the east endpoint of the Greenway line would not make it all the way to the Hiawatha line to offer riders a seamless transfer opportunity between the two rail lines.  To address these shortcomings, the Coalition hired streetcar expert Jim Graebner from Denver to conduct its own Streetcar Feasibility Study.  This study was funded primarily by Greenway neighborhoods and handful of individuals. It was completed in 2001.
  • Both the Met Council/HCRRA study and the Coalition’s study found that streetcars in the Midtown Greenway were both technically and economically feasible. 
  • After lobbying by the Coalition, in 2003 the state legislature passed a law prohibiting further study of buses in the Midtown Greenway. 
  • By late 2003, 14 of the 16 Midtown Greenway neighborhoods had passed resolutions supporting the implementation of streetcars in the Midtown Greenway as soon as possible.
  • On October 26, 2006, the Midtown Greenway Coalition Board of Directors passed a resolution recommending a Kenilworth alignment for the Southwest LRT line. To read that resolution, click here.

For more information about the Coalition’s earlier advocacy for a streetcar and links to its 1999 Streetcar Feasibility Study, click here.

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