Light-rail line to ease commute

A planned rail line would connect the Southwestern suburbs to Minneapolis.

by James Nord

Post-Secondary Enrollment Options student Ning Yang has been commuting by bus to the University of Minnesota from the Southwest metropolitan area since last year. The lack of parking and infrequency of existing transit options have often left him in a bind, late for class and frustrated. The planned Southwest Transitway, a 15-mile light-rail line slated to run from the Eden Prairie to downtown Minneapolis, will change that. âÄúWeâÄôve identified major mobility issues in the southwest quadrant of the metro area,âÄù Hennepin County transit planner Adele Hall said. âÄúThe Southwest Transitway would provide a reverse commute for folks living in Minneapolis to get out to the suburbs as well as providing, obviously, service for suburbanites coming into the city.âÄù A Minneapolis City Council commission Thursday reviewed initial proposals for the five Minneapolis stations planned for inclusion on the transitway, and regional governments are working to hand over plans to the Metropolitan Council, which is ultimately set to administer the project until its completion in 2017. In November, the Hennepin County Regional Railroad Authority recommended one of three proposed routes for the line, and the Met Council will have a public hearing in April on the matter. Barring significant resistance, it will be voted on in May. Designated the Kenilworth-Opus-Golden Triangle alignment, the line will run through St. Louis Park, Hopkins, Edina and Minnetonka on its way from Minneapolis to Eden Prairie. There was controversy over the route the line would take when entering downtown. While one of the proposed routes took it down Nicollet Avenue, the current alignment would take the line around the heart of downtown, meeting up with the Hiawatha and Central Corridor light-rail lines, as well as the Northstar commuter rail line at Target Field Station. Yang said that for students like him, such an option would be âÄúpretty awesome.âÄù âÄúA light rail would obviously be the best case scenario,âÄù he said. Hennepin County obtained $300,000 in planning funds from the federal government for the five Minneapolis stations on the line. Some preliminary planning and environmental impact work have already begun, and Principal City Planner Amanda Arnold said the results will be brought before the City Council early next year. Final design of the estimated $1.25 billion line is set to occur before 2014. Phil Eckert, Hennepin County director of housing, community works and transit, said the experience gained through the planning and construction of other lines is making the planning process of the Southwest Transitway more effective. However, he said the line is slightly different from the Central Corridor because it would run through areas with varying levels of development, such as the suburbs. He said this provides an opportunity for additional development along the corridor. Although an exact funding source is unknown at this point, a sales tax, the Hennepin County Regional Railroad Authority and the state of Minnesota would cover about half the cost of the project, with the federal government expected to finance the remainder. âÄúThereâÄôs a slow, painful process to all of this, and the FTA monitors these projects very closely, and they have very set processes and rules and procedures so weâÄôll follow all of them,âÄù Met Council spokesman Steve Dornfeld said. âÄúThatâÄôs all with the goal of getting 50 percent federal funding [for the line].âÄù