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.