MnDOT, Light Rail Transit Project host public hearing on West Bank

by Seth Woehrle

In a small gym on the West Bank, Korean-Americans sat with interpreters, Somali-Americans held signs written in their native language and a community came together against a multimillion-dollar realignment of a section of the proposed Light Rail Transit line.
The public hearing, held in the Coyle Bryan Community Center, was a chance for the Minnesota Department of Transportation and the Hiawatha Light Rail Transit Project to show the community what the estimated cost of the realignment would be.
The proposed LRT line would be moved from an old rail bed along Highway 55 onto a section of Cedar Avenue. The line would run from South 7th Avenue and Cedar to East Franklin Avenue.
Minnesota Transit Contractors estimated the cost of the realignment at $3.5 million. The estimate does not include the cost of the land — a figure MnDOT was not allowed to reveal.
Mike Shadauer, a representative of the Hiawatha Project Office, presented these findings to the audience before letting community members take the podium to give testimony.
Jan Morlock, director of University Relations, read excerpts from a University letter addressed to Metropolitan Council Chairman Ted Mondale, supporting the realignment.
“Last year the University expressed its support for the station location that was closer to Cedar Avenue, rather than the original proposed site that would have put the station behind vacant industrial buildings, out of sight from pedestrians and motorists,” said Morlock.
Residents, including Korean-Americans and Somali-Americans, took their turn at the podium.
Citing noise and crowd concerns the residents spoke for three minutes each about their objections to the realignment.
Korean-American residents were especially concerned with the future of the Korean Gardens, a small piece of land that residents planted with native Korean vegetables.
Under the realignment plan, the gardens would be destroyed and no relocation site has been found.
Leslie Davis of the environmental group Earth Protectors said the organization has a lawsuit against MnDOT in Hennepin County District Court and another in the Court of Appeals against the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency.
In a heated speech, Davis alleged the public hearing was a joke and that MnDOT’s decision had already been made.
“The Department of Transportation is holding this hearing for comments to realign the Hiawatha Light Rail to Cedar-Riverside when it has already made the decision to do that,” said Davis. “This meeting is here to play a little game with all of us and to let you think that your comments mean anything.”

Seth Woehrle covers environment and transit and welcomes comments at [email protected]