To: Mark Fuhrman, Southwest Project Office
Jim Alexander, Southwest Project Office
March 3, 2014
Kenwood Isles Area Association (KIAA) renews its strong objection to routing both freight rail and light rail (LRT) in the Kenilworth Corridor. While many reasons exist for this position, these comments refer specifically to the recent Water Resources Draft and Freight Rail Location Alternatives reports released at the end of January.
The necessity of colocating freight and light rail in the same corridor is a direct result of Hennepin County’s lack of planning in designing the Locally Preferred Alignment (LPA) that includes the Kenilworth Corridor. Because of this failure, the plan to move freight to St. Louis Park has been rejected for a variety of reasons (some relevant and some not). Minneapolis renewed its objection to the colocation of both enterprises in the corridor and, as a compromise, the Met Council recommended placing the LRT in a shallow tunnel. We believe that this compromise is short sighted at best and without more complete study PRIOR TO ANY MUNICIPAL CONSENT may in the long run prove disastrous.
The conclusions of Burns and McDonnell (independent consultants hired by the Met Council) of the shallow tunnel plan and its effect on the water resources of the corridor were summarized in the presentation to the Corridor Management Committee (CMC) on February 20, 2014. To us, those findings raise more questions than provide assurances. A few of those conclusions and our concerns are:
1. “Add lateral and nested piezometers.” This recommendation is meant to substantiate the conclusion that shallow tunnels will not interfere with groundwater movement and activity. Shouldn’t that be established BEFORE the decision is made to bury the LRT tracks in a tunnel?
2. “Complete a comprehensive capacity analysis for sanitary and storm sewer systems.” If an analysis is needed, and those systems prove to be deficient, what will it cost to upgrade them and who will pay for it? How will those costs effect the overall project budget, and shouldn’t they be known before a decision is made?
3. “Complete a Phase II Environmental Site Assessment.” Again, why should Minneapolis be asked to provide municipal consent for this project without knowing the results of this assessment? A Phase II study is especially important in this corridor because it carried freight traffic for many years, during a time when environmental concerns were not as important as they are now. Why would the Met Council want to go forward with this project without having the Phase II results that may show more funds will be required to clean up the corridor before any digging into the groundwater can be initiated?
Barr Engineering, consultants hired by the city of Minneapolis and the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board, raises other issues (also described in the CMC meeting presentation) that we believe need to be resolved before the project is approved and begun. Paramount among these issues is their first concern: “The effectiveness of sheet pile sealing and seal pour performance.” Barr Engineering is concerned with the effectiveness of the seals needed to connect about thirty 150’ concrete, rectangular tunnels sitting in eight feet of groundwater. To us, this part of the design is the linchpin in the plan that, if it fails, may have significant and irreversible consequences for the Chain of Lakes system in Minneapolis. We believe that the risk of a failure of this design, even though it may be small, is larger than the city of Minneapolis should ever be asked to take. For that reason, and for the others listed above, we believe the shallow tunnel as a compromise to at-grade colocation fails as a viable alternative.
In addition to the water issues described above, KIAA has great concern for any permanent placement of rail in the Kenilworth Corridor. To begin with, the City of Minneapolis has been clear for many years that any placement of light rail in this corridor requires the permanent removal of freight rail. KIAA believes, like the City of Minneapolis, that the existence of light rail in the Kenilworth Corridor, either at grade or in a shallow tunnel, constitutes colocation of the two and is unacceptable. Like the city, KIAA has taken this position since the current LPA was chosen and we have not changed our opinion.
In addition to this violation of the basic premise for acceptance of the LPA by the City of Minneapolis, KIAA also believes that any plan for colocation of freight and LRT is incomplete and has not addressed important issues:
1. What measures to make freight (in addition to light rail) safe and livable in the community will be taken, and at what cost?
2. What will be the environmental impact of a tunnel option, including crash walls (impact on wildlife, vegetation, noise, and trail and park users.)
3. Who will assume liability if freight stays in the Kenilworth Corridor? Up until now, Twin City and Western Railroad (TC&W) has assumed full liability while running trains in the corridor because they believed placement of freight rail was “temporary” (according to Jim Alexander of the Southwest Project Office at the community meeting at the Jones Harrison Residence on June of 2013). Is Twin City and Western Railroad asking for another entity to share liability for any accident that happens in the corridor? If that is the case, who will bear the cost of this shared liability?
4. Why is TC&W now suggesting that a right of way of less than 25 feet from the center of their track is acceptable in the Kenilworth Corridor when it was stated earlier that 25 feet was the minimum industry standard?
5. Perhaps most importantly, what assurance will the City of Minneapolis receive that the money for shallow tunnels will be available if colocation is implemented against its will? If those assurances cannot be made, when will all the issues and concerns relating to at-grade co-location be addressed?
KIAA, a totally volunteer neighborhood organization, has been involved in the discussions regarding the Southwest LRT project since before the LPA was chosen. We objected to that LPA for a variety of reasons but once chosen we shifted our focus to mitigating the effect of 220 trains traveling between two lakes and separating our neighborhood. Because members of the board, and numerous residents of the neighborhood, feel a strong sense of responsibility for our neighborhood and the environment, we have felt compelled to add our voices in defense of Minneapolis. Neighbors spent a day discussing and designing the station area. We attended numerous meetings that discussed everything from transit oriented development to effects on traffic in the neighborhood. All of these discussions began with the premise that freight would not be part of the Kenilworth Corridor if it was to be used for LRT.