ST. LOUIS PARK, Minn. — May 13, 2016 – The Federal Transit Administration (FTA) today published the final environmental document on the Southwest LRT Project, marking a major step closer to realization of the $1.79 billion project. This comes after years of public feedback and technical analysis, done in conjunction with project staff from the Metropolitan Council.
The Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) responds to comments received on the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) and Supplemental DEIS, released in 2012 and 2015, respectively. The FEIS shows how the design was advanced to avoid or minimize impacts and identifies mitigation measures for impacts that cannot be avoided or minimized. It further outlines the Council’s commitments to deal with those impacts throughout construction and operation of the Southwest LRT Project.
“Input from the public directly shaped the Southwest LRT Project,” said Metropolitan Council Chair Adam Duininck. “The public raised concerns about noise, visual quality impacts, water resources and safety, among other issues. Project staff has worked with federal, state and local partners to make the appropriate design changes and incorporate them into the project plans. The Southwest LRT Project today is stronger – and enjoys broader support – because of the public’s input.
“This is a major step forward for the communities who have supported this project for years. It reinforces the need for the State Legislature to take action in the next week to provide the remaining $135 million to help us leverage $895 million in federal funds; without action, those federal funds will go to a transit project somewhere else in the country.”
Installing resilient track fasteners in a Minneapolis LRT tunnel, adjusting horn and bell usage and building sound walls are among steps outlined in the FEIS to reduce or eliminate noise and vibration along the future Southwest LRT Project.
Additionally, the following provisions were identified through staff evaluation, consultation with cities along the route and in response to public comments on the Draft EIS and the Supplemental DEIS. Key adjustments include:
Moving the alignment south in Eden Prairie to address concerns about impacts to business entrances along Technology Drive and bringing the line closer to Eden Prairie Center mall and the city’s core commercial and retail district.
Building sound walls along portions of the route in St. Louis Park, Hopkins, and Minnetonka to mitigate noise impacts to residences.
Selecting the final location for the operations and maintenance facility in a light industrial area in Hopkins and away from private residences. Floodplain impacts at the site will be mitigated by replacing lost water storage in the same or nearby areas, where feasible, in coordination with local agencies.
Avoiding and minimizing wetland impacts through design refinement.
Mitigating unavoidable wetland impacts by buying wetland bank credits as the preferred strategy to meet federal, state and local mitigation requirements.
Adjusting the operation of horns and bells at several road crossings and positioning bells to minimize impacts to adjacent neighborhoods.
Installing resilient fasteners on the track in the Kenilworth LRT tunnel in Minneapolis to mitigate vibration from LRT operations.
FEIS details freight rail plans, safety measures
The FEIS describes the decision to co-locate freight rail and LRT in the existing rail corridor in St. Louis Park and Minneapolis based on extensive public input and analysis of freight railroad location and water resources.
Based on that analysis, Southwest LRT advisory committee recommendations and public comments, the design for the Project was adjusted in April 2014 to keep freight rail in the existing corridor along with LRT tracks. In order to retain the freight rail and trail in the corridor and avoid taking residences, the Project includes a shallow LRT tunnel to be built just under a half-mile in length between West Lake Street Station and south of the Kenilworth Channel. The LRT tracks will return to grade just south of the Kenilworth Channel and cross over the channel on a new bridge.
“The project design is sensitive to the natural areas within the corridor and includes safety measures for trails, light rail and freight rail operating in a shared corridor,” said Jim Alexander, acting project director.
The FEIS describes that farther west on the route, beginning east of Excelsior Boulevard in Hopkins, the existing freight rail tracks owned by Canadian Pacific Railway will be shifted north about 45 feet. This will allow the light rail tracks to be built south of the freight tracks and make LRT stations more accessible to local centers of activity, while retaining the trail.
31-day public comment period
While state law requires a minimum 10-day period for the public to submit comments on the document’s adequacy, the project is providing 31 days. June 13 is the comment deadline.
“Community engagement has been critical in assuring the concerns of the public are heard and addressed. Thousands of people have weighed in over the last few years. Results from this extensive public input process have been incorporated into the FEIS and have helped to fine tune the final report resulting in a stronger project, sensitive to the needs and desires of those the Southwest LRT will serve,” Hopkins Mayor Molly Cummings said.
To complete the environmental review process, the Federal Transit Administration will need to issue a Record of Decision and the Council will make a Determination of Adequacy. Comments on the FEIS will be addressed as appropriate in these documents. Once these actions are taken, the Council can advertise construction contracts and apply for federal funding for half the capital costs so heavy construction can begin next year.
With the completion of the environmental review process, public engagement will shift from the planning and design process to informing the public on what to expect from construction, such as temporary detours or lane closures. Communication methods will include construction updates that can be viewed on mobile devices and the project’s website www.swlrt.org.
The FEIS process
The Southwest LRT Project’s environmental review process studied resource areas, including – but not limited to – land use, acquisitions and displacements, noise, vibration, safety and security, and geology and groundwater resources.
The FEIS responded to nearly 1,200 comments submitted by the public and government agencies following the earlier publication of the Draft EIS and the Supplemental DEIS. Comments were received at public hearings and through email and letters.
About the project:
The planned Southwest Light Rail Transit (LRT) Project (METRO Green Line Extension) will operate from downtown Minneapolis through the communities of St. Louis Park, Hopkins, Minnetonka, and Eden Prairie, passing in close proximity to the city of Edina. The line will connect major activity centers in the region including downtown Minneapolis, Methodist Hospital in St. Louis Park, downtown Hopkins and the Opus/Golden Triangle employment area in Minnetonka and Eden Prairie. Ridership in 2040 is forecasted at approximately 34,000 average weekday boardings. The project will interline with the METRO Green Line, which will provide a one-seat ride to destinations such as the University of Minnesota, state Capitol and downtown St. Paul. It will be part of an integrated system of transitways, including connections to the METRO Blue Line, the proposed METRO Blue Line Extension, the Northstar Commuter Rail line, a variety of major bus routes along the alignment, and proposed future transitway and rail lines. The Metropolitan Council will be the grantee of federal funds. The regional government agency is charged with building the line in partnership with the Minnesota Department of Transportation. The Southwest Corridor Management Committee, which includes commissioners from Hennepin County and the mayors of Minneapolis, St. Louis Park, Edina, Hopkins, Minnetonka, and Eden Prairie, provides advice and oversight. Funding is provided by the Federal Transit Administration, Counties Transit Improvement Board (CTIB), state of Minnesota and Hennepin County Regional Railroad Authority (HCRRA) and other project partners. The Southwest LRT Project website is www.swlrt.org