Study Derails Edina Commuter Rail Line

Never say never when it comes to another government study. Especially when it involves a pet project like a new commuter rail line in a recent Star Tribune report. But one Edina City Councilor came pretty close, reacting to a costly draft study on the viability of a passenger rail line proposed for the Dan Patch corridor paralleling Highway 100.

City staffers and St. Paul-based consultants Kimley-Horn recommended that the council stop looking at rail possibilities in the corridor for the time being, a move strongly backed by Council Member Bob Stewart.

Stewart called the city’s efforts to study passenger rail options along the tracks west of Hwy. 100 a “failure” and “a waste of time and a waste of money.”

Stewart should’ve known it was a waste of time and money from the start. State law prohibits the Met Council, MnDOT and regional rail authorities from spending any time or taxpayer funds on passenger rail service in the Dan Patch corridor. The so-called “gag rule” was passed back in 2002, due to strong opposition to commuter rail in the south metro.  There’s not another law like it on the books in the country, according to the report.

The Gag Rule is unique–we are not aware of this type of legislation prohibiting study of a specific corridor anywhere else in the United States.

Yet the Edina City Council moved ahead anyway, spending $30,000 on a study that didn’t end well for fans of rail transit. The results found that commuter rail along the  corridor remains overwhelmingly unpopular, especially with nearby residents and businesses.

Overall, feedback was predominantly negative towards passenger rail in the Dan Patch Corridor. About 70% of comments opposed any study of passenger rail service in this corridor….

Eric Ecklund – Support the Dan Patch Rail Line photo

Some of their biggest concerns? Decrease in property values, neighborhood impacts (character, traffic, access), high cost, low benefit (especially to Edina vs. other cities), increased crime and lack of ridership.

Yet true to form, City Councilor Stewart criticized the messenger for reporting the public skepticism toward the rail transit project.

He said that Edina will need to look at rail service in the future as the metro population grows and roads become more congested. But he said that the study questions presented during the public meetings were “poorly phrased” and led people to think the city was only interested in high-speed rail, not slower and cheaper alternatives such as a trolley system.

“Kimley-Horn may have ruined our chances for being able to build a stronger case” for rail, Stewart said. “I hope the well hasn’t been poisoned too badly so we can’t revisit this.”

So where does commuter rail in Edina go from here? Nowhere, according to the report’s bottom line.

No, the City should not dedicate resources to developing a plan to encourage the development of passenger rail service in Edina in the Dan Patch Corridor at this time.