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VIDEO: Protestors Slam Proposed Southwest LRT Route

St. Louis Park residents worry a freight rail reroute will make their neighborhoods more dangerous, hurt schools and lower property values.

Drivers passing St. Louis Park City Hall on Wednesday night couldn’t miss the orange shirts and big-lettered signs of protestors upset about the proposed route of the Southwest Light Rail Transit line.

Critics showed up in force prior to a public hearing on the project’s draft environmental impact statement to protest the proposed relocation of the Twin Cities & Western freight line, which currently operates on a planned segment of the Southwest LRT. Nearby residents say the additional, heavier freight traffic on the tracks would lower property values, disrupt nearby St. Louis Park High School and be more dangerous.

“You say there are five communities along the line,” Mminnetonka Boulevard homeowner Brian Zachek said at a public hearing that filled the council chambers. “Only one of them has to worry about sending their kids and grandkids to high school and if it would put them in danger of being killed or maimed. 

Homeowners like Zachek think the freight rail should be located in Minneapolis’ Kenilworth Corridor, where the light rail is slated to run—an option called co-location. They say that option would be cheaper and safer.

Enough people signed up to testify at the public hearing that it filled four sheets of paper. Tom Johnson, president of Railroad & Metallurgical Engineering Inc. in St. Louis Park, was one of those. His job involves accident reconstruction, and he said the freight rail reroute is a bad idea.

“Believe me, I don’t want any business in St. Louis Park,” Johnson said. “My professional opinion is: Keep it in Kenilworth, keep it slow, keep it safe.”

Hennepin County Commissioner Gail Dorfman was a particular target of the protestors’ ire. Many felt the former St. Louis Park mayor and councilwoman had betrayed residents—several citing a quote from a Tuesday Star Tribune article in which she said, “I think this is a win-win for St. Louis Park in all respects, as long as we adequately mitigate for the freight rail.” 

“It’s really hard to believe that with the decreased safety and all the safety issues that this could possibly be a win for St. Louis Park,” said protestor Karen Hroma, holding up a sign that read “Have you been Dorfed?”

Frustration with the proposed Southwest LRT route did not necessarily mean opposition to the project itself, though. Many said they would support light rail as long as it didn’t push extra freight rail into their neighborhoods.

“I strongly support light rail. I love the idea of light rail. I have no problem with that. What I have a problem with is the freight rail relocation,” Zachek said.

l wik November 15, 2012 at 05:52 PM
Your headline is absolutely misleading and inaccurate - NO ONE is opposed to LRT - what is "opposed" is the unnecessary, unsafe, railroad company opposed, EXPENSIVE by $ 125 + million dollars re-route of freight traffic. Freight traffic can stay right where it is - saving of millions of dollars, less disruption and devaluation of communities, far less safety issues and with approval by the railroad companies that have to operate on it. please change the headline - NO ONE is opposed to LRT.
Bert Schmitt November 15, 2012 at 06:52 PM
I was at the meeting last night and you need to get your facts straight. There was no opposition to the SW Light Rail Transit, but to the freight reroute. The reroute cost of $123 million dollars + undetermined mitigation costs to be bourn by us the taxpayers is ludicrous since there is a safer option available; the Kenilworth Corridor. The rub comes in with our mayor who was present at the meeting but did not speak but rather chooses to express his defeatist & obtuse opinions from a distance in the Star Tribune. He was also not available to anyone after the meeting, as he disappeared. What kind of leader is he? I was always taught leaders lead from the front not hiding in the shadows. Also present was Hennepin County Commissioner Gail Dorfman who should relinquish her position in any matters related to the SWRT and reroute considerations, due to her self admitted bias via promises made to the Kenworth neighborhood when she was mayor of St. Louis Park. Bert Schmitt 2833 Brunswick AV S St. Louis Park, MN 55416
James Warden (Editor) November 15, 2012 at 09:53 PM
Look at the headline: "VIDEO: Protestors Slam Proposed Southwest LRT Route" I said specifically that you expressed opposition to the route, not LRT on its own. That was clarified further below the headline and made even more explicit in the final quote of the story.
l wik November 15, 2012 at 11:53 PM
There is NO OPPOSITION TO THE LRT ROUTE. The route is fine and will operate just fine "co-located" with existing freight traffic. There is no need to move freight traffic.
James Warden (Editor) November 16, 2012 at 12:22 AM
I wik, I think this is something we're just going to have to agree to disagree on. For the purposes of a headline and a lead sentence, I consider the freight rail re-route and co-location issues as part of the larger Southwest LRT routing process. And as I explained to someone who called me earlier today, this article is running on Patch sites in four different communities. "Freight rail" and "co-location" don't have the immediate resonance in Eden Prairie, Hopkins and Minnetonka as they do in St. Louis Park. I can't put those phrases in a headline and assume readers will automatically know what I'm talking about in those communities. In fact, I even felt the need to specify the definition by writing "an option called co-location" in the story. Nonetheless, I think the arguments of your group were clearly stated in the story. No one reading this article—or even just the sentence below the headline—could miss that this is specifically about the freight rail issue, not Southwest LRT in general. Again, I put a quote at the end of the story to emphasize that point—in addition to running an entire video that focuses on that exclusively through the words of those who agree with you.
Bert Schmitt November 16, 2012 at 01:49 AM
James do you even know of what you are writing about. There are 2 issues the S W Light Rail and the reroute of the freight. None of us is opposed to the SW Light Rail. Look at your first paragraph " Drivers passing St. Louis Park City Hall on Wednesday night couldn’t miss the orange shirts and big-lettered signs of protestors upset about the proposed route of the Southwest Light Rail Transit line." this is inaccurate & untrue. I beleive that the logical & financially viable solution is to have the SWLRT "co-located" with the existing freight traffic in the Kenilworth Corridor. Bert Schmitt
James Warden (Editor) November 16, 2012 at 02:48 AM
Bert Schmitt, I think the article makes the same points you're making. But Patch isn't my site. It's a community site. If you want to write a letter to the editor clarifying your position, I'd be happy to run it. In fact, we'd be happy to have you or anyone else as a blogger who'd like to comment on local happenings more regularly. Just shoot me an e-mail at james.warden@patch.com. Also, I'd be happy to grab a cup of coffee with anyone who wants to talk in person. Feel free to contact me if you or your neighbors would like to do that.
Dave November 17, 2012 at 10:26 PM
I think a more accurate headline would have been something like, "Protestors slam proposed freight rail reroute that planners say is required for SW LRT." Most who oppose the freight re-route are supporters of SW LRT. They just assert that co-location is viable, cheaper, and safer for the SLP community. Some who read the headline will falsely remember and think that SLP residents oppose SW LRT.
Roy Nguyen November 20, 2012 at 11:09 PM
I think the article clearly states complete opposition of the " re-routed freight line". I actually think the article is 100% pro for the opposition of the re-route. James, what I didn't read is statements from Dorfman or the current mayor of the Park. The headline did get me to click on the article though, in which I believe is the opposition's goal, which is to make everyone in all communities affected by LRT to understand why the Park's re-route is bad. Good Job James!

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