Hennepin County has posted on its B- website the latest salvo in the Great Saint Louis Park Rail Wars. They’ve created a page called Freight Rail whose sole reason for existence is to compile the cancerous accumulation of studies revolving around the relocation of the former TC&W track that is now known as the Midtown Greenway.
I’m pretty sure the page didn’t exist until the county released their Freight Rail Draft Staff Report on August 16. That document contains an excellent summary of the controversy/debacle:
The origin of the current freight rail issue in St. Louis Park and Minneapolis was the severing of the freight rail line in the 29th Street/Midtown Corridor in the 1990’s. This action was part of the TH55/Hiawatha Avenue project funded by MnDOT and the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA). MnDOT and FHWA made the decision to sever the freight rail line rather than to construct a grade separated crossing. This decision was made due to geometrics, topography, and costs. After the decision was made to sever the rail line, an analysis was conducted to determine the preferred alignment for relocation of the freight rail service. The location preferred by the government agencies and the private freight rail companies was the active Minneapolis, Northfield and Southern (MN&S) line through St Louis Park. Shortly before the TH55/Hiawatha Avenue project was let and the freight rail was to be severed, it was determined that the National Lead/Golden Auto site in St Louis Park where the rail connection would be made was contaminated (and listed as a federal superfund site). MnDOT had approximately two to three months to find an alternate route for the freight rail relocation or the state was at risk of losing the TH55/Hiawatha Avenue federal funds. The Cedar Lake/Kenilworth Corridor was chosen by MnDOT as the “temporary” (4 to 6 years) reroute for freight rail until such time that the National Lead/Golden Auto site was delisted or another alternative was found. To facilitate the TH 55/Hiawatha Avenue roadway project, the HCRRA agreed to the temporary rerouting of freight rail through the Kenilworth Corridor and entered into a three party agreement with the Canadian Pacific (formerly Soo Line) and Twin Cities and Western (TCW) Railroads.
MnDOT had two to three months to find an alternate route! That’s gotta be a record.
Anyway, in keeping with Hennepin County’s policy of web profusion, there is also a separate site set up by the county for this whole issue, www.mnsrailstudy.org. That page has more cool stuff, including some maps, but not the maps that were included in a presentation made to the Southwest Transitway Community Advisory Committe, and that I’ll reproduce here.
This map shows the alternatives for relocation that were explored in a 2009 study – the alternatives were estimated to cost between $60 and 136 million, compared to the $48m cost of the MN&S routing.
This map shows the various factors in considering an alignment – the CP yards in Camden, congestion in the Target Field area, something called the Iron Triangle. I think this map (and this process) shows what a questionable idea it was in the first place to sever the rail line. Much as I enjoy the Midtown Greenway, we are left with a significant population center in South Minneapolis that is very poorly served by rail lines. This is to some degree a historical situation – I’ve always been amazed at the huge swath of South/Southwest from Cedar to France to Minnehaha Creek to Lake Street that was basically homogeneously suburban residential – but has been made worse by the various severings of Hiawatha and the retrenchment of the Pleasant Ave track segment (not sure of the name). My point (if I have one) is that after the Era of Cheap Energy is over, it might help to be able to take advantage of very high efficiency transportation modes. Maybe the area is small enough that it could be effectively served by smaller trucks or freight light rail, but maybe it instead would have been prudent to not scrap the rail infrastructure.
Anyway, St Louis Park has its own side of the story of course, and it sounds like the alignment question may be answered in part by a judge. If SLP’s appeal is successful, it could cause a significant delay in the Southwest Transitway project, currently hoping for revenue service in 2017 or 18. So a highway project in Minneapolis caused a rail project in St Louis Park, which may prevent a transit project in Eden Prairie. How much of this mess could have been prevented by consolidating agencies and municipalities?