Off track

We now (hopefully) return to a semi-regular posting schedule…

Hooray to the Federal Transit Authority for giving the green light to the Southwest Light Rail Line! Yeah, the Feds put their stamp of approval on the project and gave it the meager funding for the engineering phase, essentially to draw up the workable blueprints. Once those are finalized, it’s assumed that the funding for the project will be granted and ground will be broken… I hear it’s very rare that the FTA says to go ahead with the blueprints and then turns around later to ditch the project.

But there is still one major flaw that the Feds were not blind to, one which I opined about here and here. To spare you some reading, on the Minneapolis end of the line the Metro Council has decided to prefer the lesser of two routes (the one through the big, open fields of nothingness versus the one past the thousands of potential riders in Uptown), amongst their reasons being:

1. It’s cheaper. (A bit of a lie, which I’ll elaborate upon.)

2. The dip in ridership was negligible considering the much lesser price. (That ridership being only the “new” transit riders that could potentially be lured out of their cars, as defined by an old funding formula that is no longer used to approve projects. Remember that the thousands of people that already use transit in Uptown weren’t counted as “riders” when figuring for this project because they already ride buses.)

3. The Midtown Greenway is a popular bike trail and they felt that the City of Minneapolis wouldn’t want the riders to be disturbed by trains running by. (Never mind that it’s an old freight rail trench that was purchased by Hennepin County for the purpose of… Light Rail Transit!)

Pictured to the left is the little discrepancy in funding. On the bottom is a freight rail line that goes into Minneapolis, via the route chosen for the SW Light Rail.  On the top is another rail line, also bound for Minneapolis, that cuts through a few neighborhoods and rumbles past St. Louis Park High School.

What wasn’t figured into the original price tag of the “cheaper” route was that the under-bridge freight line pictured would have to be rerouted to make way for commuters. That’s an expensive proposition because it involves building a big freakin’ ramp to get the trains that currently go under the bridge in the photo up to the tracks on top of the bridge. Yeah, that mile-long ramp won’t come cheap, and neither will all the additional safety measures demanded by the City of St. Louis Park for those additional freight trains that will be plowed through the city.

The original funding equation labeled that whole moving of the freight line as a completely separate project because it was something that was supposedly promised to the freight rail company years before Southwest LRT had the green light. These trains had their original route into downtown Minneapolis severed by the reconstruction of Highway 55, and their rerouting down the same path that as the planned light rail line was supposedly a quick, “temporary” fix until they could muster up the funds to build the ramp. That project was put off time and time again, and now it’s seen as “necessary” to put a high-capacity mass transit line through that very same empty field that the freight trains go through now.

The Met says the ramp was happening someday anyway, so it’s not technically part of the SW LRT project and, therefore, not part of the funding equation. The FTA says no, if the ramp was really going to be built it would have been done years ago as promised. And now that it’s being built to get the freight trains out of the way so the light rail goes through, well, then the Met Council is going to have to figure in the money for the ramp.

The short of it is, with the cost of rerouting the freight rail tabulated with the cost of running the line down the Kennilworth corridor, the whole project costs about the same as the “more expensive” route through the heart of Uptown.

Were it not for the additional years of delay (Keep in mind that this was one of the proposed “starter lines” of a much grander light rail system laid out in 1985… I blogged on it here.) I would be screaming for the brakes to be put on. Let’s just take that money and not build a big, expensive ramp to reroute freight rail out of a corridor that seems pretty appropriate for freight rail and use that money to put the light rail where the riders will be… Uptown. As it stands, the City of Minneapolis is stepping up to provide the higher-capacity rail transit needed in Uptown with their streetcar plan, and I suppose that in future years I’ll just hop off at the West Calhoun station and onto a waiting streetcar.

Yeah, the City is planning to build an electric train in the Midtown Greenway trench that the Met Council said they wouldn’t build in because they felt the City didn’t want trains running next to the bike trail. Facepalm. Whatever. Let’s just build it already. Reliable, frequent rail service in the near future was one reason why we bought a house near this proposed light rail line, so I’m pretty anxious to see some track get laid, even if there’s a few flaws in the plan.

Bonus points if the people working on it can sing “I Get a Kick Out of You”…

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