St. Louis Park balks at Southwest light rail delay

Elected officials who huddled with Gov. Mark Dayton this week to postpone a crucial vote on the beleaguered Southwest light rail proposal have called the delay a path forward that could ultimately save the project.

But city leaders in St. Louis Park are feeling snubbed and “extremely disappointed.

“St. Louis Park leaders and its legislators should have had a place at that meeting before an announcement was made that more than a decade of study and two years of hard work by the Corridor Management Committee and the Metropolitan Council staff to reach a freight rail conclusion was being set aside,” Mayor Jeff Jacobs wrote in a letter today to Dayton.

Until a couple of days ago, things were looking good for St. Louis Park. The Corridor Management Committee had recommended keeping the freight trains where they are — in the Kenilworth Corridor of Minneapolis — rather than diverting them to the first-ring suburb.

The Met Council was poised to approve that plan Wednesday until Dayton announced on the eve of the vote that he and other officials would hit the “pause” button so they could smooth over concerns in Minneapolis, where leaders oppose a $160 million plan to bury the passenger trains in shallow tunnels through Kenilworth.

Municipal consent is no small matter. State law requires the Met Council to seek support from all five cities touching the line, and it was clear that Minneapolis city council members weren’t on board with the tunnel scenario. The project staff will take the next two to three months to answer questions about hydrology, landscaping, and whether there are any viable options to divert the freight.

That latter inquiry is what worries St. Louis Park. In his letter, Jacobs reminded Dayton that his city’s support for Southwest is conditional.

“It will be difficult to see a path forward to municipal consent in our community should it be recommended that freight rail traffic be rerouted in St. Louis Park.”