Southwest light rail tunnel to face Wednesday vote - KMSP-TV

Southwest light rail tunnel to face Wednesday vote

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MINNEAPOLIS (KMSP) -

A shallow tunnel may be what gives the green light to a portion of the proposed Southwest Light Rail Line that has faced opposition from community members -- as long as it can clear a Wednesday vote.

The tunnel would go under the current Kenilworth Bike Path in Minneapolis that traverses a thriving but quiet neighborhood. In order to preserve that popular bike and walking path, a portion of the line that will one day bring trains toward Eden Prairie may be buried underground.

Engineers are proposing two shallow tunnels on that section. The first would start just north of West Lake Street and emerge before the water channel connecting Cedar Lake and Lake of the Isles, and the second would take the train underground once more before coming up just before the Interstate 394 expressway.

During a tour of the proposed route, engineers assured FOX 9 News neighbors near the tunnels shouldn't hear, feel or even see the trains traveling by.

"That was what the intent was with the tunnel -- to have them below grade, to have them out of sight and maybe out of mind, except for maybe this piece here at the channel," explained Jim Alexander, the director of design.

Engineers plan to transform the channel by replacing a wooden trestle over the water gap that will also become a modern, 83-foot-wide gateway that can accommodate both trains and boaters. Designers are also considering replanting most of the vegetation.

"This is the tightest area that we have, so a lot of the vegetation that you see out here today will have to be removed," said Deputy Project Director Craig Lamothe, "but then we will be able to replant about 91 percent of the areas that we've taken vegetation from. We will be able to re-vegetate."

The tunnels would be shallow, only about 30 feet underground to preserve the path above for pedestrians and bikers who commute via the Kenilworth path.

"I ride this bike trail every day and I can't imagine going a different route," said Chet Simmons. "What takes me five minutes on the trail would take me a half an hour to take the street to get where I have to be to get to work."

Construction of the tunnels would take two years, and the trail would likely have to close during that time -- but it's far from a done deal. The proposal will get its first big test on Wednesday when the Metropolitan Council's Corridor Management Committee will convene for a vote.

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