Speak Up for Southwest LRT this November

Do you want to be riding the Southwest Light Rail line by 2018? Let everyone hear you say, YES!

There are three public hearings in November (see details below) about the Southwest LRT Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS). The DEIS is part of the process to receive federal funds for the line—up to 50% of project costs.

These hearings are very important because they will set the tone for the Southwest LRT conversation at the state capitol this coming legislative session. The state is being asked to pay 10% of the cost of the line. TLC encourages everyone who supports this new line to attend one of the public hearings. We would like a resounding turn out in support of the line—because it is a smart investment for our region and state.

The DEIS shows that the benefits of the Southwest LRT substantially outweigh the impacts while moving us toward a 21-st century transit SYSTEM. The Locally Preferred Alternative (LPA—alignment LRT 3A) is the most cost effective per rider and fits with the land use and economic development plans of the communities along the line. Some residents in St. Louis Park are concerned about the proposed freight rail re-route, but we are confident the County and partners can appropriately mitigate the impacts.

Map of Locally
Preferred Alternative (LPA) alignment for Southwest light rail

Here are answers, based on the DEIS, to four common questions about Southwest LRT:

1.            Is Light Rail the best alternative?

Yes. The Southwest corridor is growing (population and employment) but (quoting the DEIS) there is “limited additional traffic capacity on existing streets and highways resulting in increased travel time, delays, and air pollution.” The DEIS studied options including doing nothing (the No Build Alternative), Enhanced Bus Service, and several different Light Rail alignments.

Of the options, building an LRT line is the most expensive, but also has the greatest potential to address the needs of the region. In contrast, the Enhanced Bus Service option “would only marginally improve the existing conditions.” Neither enhanced bus service nor doing nothing is consistent with local and regional comprehensive plans and “would not improve mobility, provide a cost-effective, efficient travel option, or support economic development or an economically competitive freight rail system.”

2.            Will low-income and minority communities be adversely affected?

The DEIS finds that construction of the line will not disproportionately affect low-income or minority communities and that there will be positive effects in terms of increased transit service—improved frequency, capacity, and reliablity means accessing more job centers more easily. The line should also help air quality for all residents by shifting trips from automobile to transit, resulting in about 5,700 fewer auto trips per day on the highway system.

Low-income residents make up 8.1% of the population of the corridor within a half-mile of the proposed line, while 26.3% of the population is minority. In the whole Southwest LRT study area, there are more renter-occupied housing units (52,667) than owner-occupied units (40,872). Whether this will change—and whether affordable housing options will be maintained—is a question for the planning areas along the line. The DEIS d lists exactly what plans are in effect for different segments of the line (See table 3.1-2 Summary of Local and Regional Comprehensive Plans in Chapter 3 of the DEIS, available on the Southwest Transitway web site.)

3.            Will the Cedar Lake Bike Trail be affected?

Long-term impact on bike trails is not anticipated, though there will be temporary trail re-routesas part of construction. When finished, fencing or other measures would separate bicycles and pedestrians from the LRT line. Trail users may have to travel slightly longer distances than today because of fencing and the consolidation of access points.

The DEIS notes that station areas will be designed to provide access by walking and bicycling and include amenities such as bicycle lockers, bicycle racks, and covered seating areas. Most stations would have new sidewalks and trails, would employ ADA-compliant design standards, and would place special emphasis on creating neighborhood connectivity.

4.            What is happening with station-area planning?

Station area planning is underway for many stations, including Mitchell Road, Southwest Station, Eden Prairie Town Center, Golden Triangle, City West, Opus, Shady Oak, Downtown Hopkins, Blake Road, Louisiana Avenue, Wooddale Avenue, and Beltline Boulevard. Chapter 5 of the DEIS indicates which planning community is in charge of station-area planning. Most current activity is happening in Eden Prairie, Minnetonka, Hopkins, and St. Louis Park. (For more, see Table 5.2-1 Planning Segments and Stations, in Chapter 5 of the DEIS, available on the Southwest Transitway web site.)

The DEIS notes that building a light rail line brings big opportunities regarding “land use intensification” and better transit access. Better access should spark both business and residential development.

Actual station-area planning is up to the local units of government.  TLC commented last year on the Metropolitan Council’s draft guidelines for transitway development. Two points bear repeating:

  • Transit Oriented Development. The Met Council should set and enforce explicit TOD goals, including greater specificity about tools and collaborative strategies to achieve these goals, explicit procedures for advancing affordable housing, and annual reporting on TOD outcomes.
  • Parking. How parking is designed at transitway stations is critical to building ridership and sparking adjacent development. An LRT station is not foremost a park-n-ride, it is an opportunity to create vibrant, connected neighborhoods where people want to live and can easily get around on foot or by bike as well as by car. Parking needs to be designed to anticipate increasing density in land use.


A land use map from the Hopkins
Station Plan (full plan available here

Public Hearings Schedule:

Tuesday, November 13th
Hennepin County Government Center
300 South 6th Street, Minneapolis A-2400 MAP
4:00 to 5:00 PM public open house (Public Service Level)
4:30 PM Formal Public Hearing

Wednesday, November 14th  *Strong turnout from opposition expected at this meeting!*
St. Louis Park City Hall
5005 Minnetonka Boulevard, St. Louis Park MAP
5:00 to 6:00 PM public open house
6:00 PM Formal Public Hearing

Thursday, November 29th
Eden Prairie City Hall
8080 Mitchell Road, Eden Prairie MAP
5:00 to 6:00 PM public open house
6:00 PM Formal Public Hearing

Through December 11, 2012, comments also will be accepted via the online comment form on the Southwest Transitway website, via email (swcorridor@co.hennepin.mn.us), or by mail to: Hennepin County, Housing, Community Works & Transit, Attn: Southwest Transitway, 701 Fourth Ave S, Suite 400, Minneapolis, MN  55415.

After the comment period closes on December 11, 2012, the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) and the Metropolitan Council will consider all comments and provide responses to substantive comments in the Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS). The next two big “gets” for this project will be securing funding for the 10% state share of the cost of the line and then securing approval from the FTA to enter Preliminary Engineering. After Preliminary Engineering, comes the Full Funding Agreement from the FTA, which is a signal that construction can begin—hopefully in 2014 for a 2018 opening.