Tag Archives: Freight Rail Project

In September, we've had the Public Works Grand Opening, voting on the preliminary Levy, Run for Rocco, and Council members bagging groceries at Cub, among many other things.  I'll provide an update on the biggest issues currently at play.

2016 Budget

On September 1st, the council voted to set the preliminary Levy at a 3% increase. This means that the increase cannot exceed 3% when we vote on the final Levy in December.  Please see my last post for background. The EDA Levy was also increased by 3%. The EDA is a separate entity, and has its own budget and Levy.   As I’ve stated before, I would like to continue working with staff to find ways of lowering this number for the final December vote.  Council Member Kolb talks about the Budget process in his council recap here.

METRO Blue Line Extension

LRT 1The plans for the Blue Line Light Rail are progressing. On Monday, September 28th, community members met to identify strengths and weaknesses of the area immediately surrounding the proposed LRT station. The meeting was very well attended, and residents provided thoughtful and insightful input. For many years, The LRT LRT 2project has been planned and managed by groups outside of our community, but the people who really matter are Crystal residents. We know and love Crystal, and our opinions are essential to any plans that these groups may have. The Federal Transit Administration, Hennepin County, Met Council, the Counties Transit Improvement LRT 3Board, and MNDot are all very powerful entities, and our own community may seem lost in the shuffle. It’s essential that we are present to advocate on behalf of our city. There is also a myriad of committees- Mayor Adams and I are members of the Corridor Management Committee and the Steering Committee. We also have the Crystal Community and Business Advisory Committees, and the Community Working Group. The CWG is focused on managing the plans for the area immediately surrounding the proposed station, and is made up of residents, council members (Julie Deshler and myself), and city staff. All these committees are active for the purpose of bringing the community's interests to the table. Here is a link to all the committees involved, and the dates on which they meet: METRO Blue Line Committees.

One specific LRT issue that the Council recently resolved is the West Broadway “S Curve” intersection at 48th Avenue. This intersection will not be functional as is if Light Rail is built, and we had to negotiate with the County to find an appropriate solution.  We did not want the burden of remediation alone, as the County suggested, but we did arrive at a satisfactory conclusion. You can see the proposed layout here. Hennepin County is responsible for construction, and will continue to maintain West Broadway as a County road.

Future Meetings and Opportunities to participate:

Please give your feedback on the LRT station by filling out this survey. In the Seach window at the top left corner type "Crystal", and you will be directed to the appropriate section.

The next community Open House will be on Monday, October 19, 5:00–7:30 p.m. at the Crystal Community Center. This meeting will provide information on the results of the Environmental Analysis. Click here for more details.

Train Horns

Many residents in Section 2 have expressed a desire for creating Quiet Zones at train intersections, specifically at Douglas Drive. City Staff are currently researching the details of this project. The Federal Government regulates all laws pertaining to freight rail, but the financial burden of establishing Quiet Zones falls directly on local communities.  Here is some basic information on what is involved in this process.  This is a lengthy and expensive project, and often times, cities may receive County or State funds to make it possible. You can contact our County Commissioner Mike Opat, and State Representatives Lyndon Carlson and Ann Rest, and let them know that this is important for your quality of life as a Crystal resident.

Click Here to contact Commissioner Opat

Click Here to contact Representative Carlson

Click Here to contact Representative Rest

Twin Oaks Reconstruction

Sidewalk Door KnockingOn October 1st, the City held an informational meeting for those in the Twin Oaks Neighborhood. Earlier, Julie Deshler and I door knocked on Wilshire Ave to inform residents that a sidewalk was proposed for their street. During the open house, residents were polled on their preference regarding the sidewalk. The jury on it is still out, so there is plenty of time for residents to weigh in. Please don't hesitate to contact me with your opinion on this issue.

A Public Hearing will take place on Tuesday, October 6th, 7:00pm, at City Hall.  This is another opportunity for residents to give their input on this project.

Commissions

The Council recently came to a consensus on how to improve the function of our Commissions. This conversation spanned the entire summer, and I am confident that we have reached a good conclusion. Here are the changes that we hope to implement:

  1. Move to annual recruitment and interview process for commissions.
  2. The whole Council interviews candidates.
  3. We will be working with the City Code Review Task Force to move Commissions from the Code to Resolutions.
  4. Implement annual orientation for Commissioners.
  5. Formalize expectations of Commissions, with a work plan and annual reporting- There will be a whole work session on this soon.
  6. Require biennial review of Commissions.
  7. Increase City Staff presence during Commission meetings.

I feel that these changes will put Commissions on the forefront of Council priorities, improve communication and our ability to work more cohesively.

City Code Review Task Force

I recently attended a City Code Review Task Force meeting. The caliber of work was impressive, and I am looking forward to discussing their ideas with the whole Council!  I am pleased to see diversity of background and opinion in this group, and feel confident that their proposals are made with careful deliberation. Simplifying the City Code is one of our top priorities, and we cannot do this without the work of our volunteers. Thank you to all who have stepped up to this challenging task!

Traffic Symposium

Council Member Kolb wrote a recap of this event.  You can read it here.

Community Events

Here is what's coming up in Crystal!

Crystal Shopping Center’s Halloween Event

ShoppingCenterHalloween2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Click Here for the Facebook Event Page

Fourth Annual Herzing from the Heart- Healthy Halloween Fun

HerzingHealthyHalloweenFun

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Light of Crystal Half Way Happy Hour

Thursday October 15th at El Loro, 5:00pm.

Are you interested in getting to know your Crystal neighbors?   You are invited to this casual and fun social gathering!

Click Here for the Facebook Event Page.

That's all for now!  As always, please feel free to contact me with any questions or concerns!

In this recap, I am going to focus on the Canadian Pacific and BNSF freight train connector rail project.  What does this project mean for Crystal?  What is currently being done to address the issues it presents?  What can Crystal residents do?  For background information, you may read past recaps written by council member Kolb.  The following questions were discussed during our regular council meeting, and the latter work session.

What does this project mean for Crystal?  Currently, our main concerns focus on public safety- the potential for reduced emergency response time from West Metro Fire, Ambulance, and Police services; and the danger presented by highly volatile Bakken oil being moved through our city at a much greater frequency.  I also anticipate that this project could be detrimental to our local economy and housing market, hurt our small-town atmosphere, and generally reduce quality of life.

Emergency Response Time:

The cities in the northwest suburbs have agreed to provide aid to one another during emergency situations through Mutual Aid Agreements.  Currently, during some emergency events, other nearby cities will assist by responding to support the city in which the emergency is happening.  In the short term, should a city experience delays in emergency response due to a train caused delay, these agreements would allow other cities to provide emergency services to the city in need.  However, this is not an acceptable or sustainable long-term solution.  Other cities may not be able to sustain our needs along with their own emergency demands.  The delay in our services creates a ripple effect in the area.  We need to ensure that Crystal remains entirely functional, and can independently sustain the majority of our own emergency needs.  The CP/BNSF rail project threatens our ability to do this.

Danger of Bakken Oil Trains:

What is the difference between regular oil and Bakken oil?  Bakken oil is derived from the “Bakken Formation”, which is a geological formation found in Montana, North Dakota, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba.  The oil is extracted through Fracking and drilling, with primary operations out of North Dakota.  This type of oil accounts for more than 10% of all domestic production.  Bakken oil has been called an “imminent hazard” due to higher levels of combustible gasses. Read this study published last May. This Monday, one day before the council meeting, a Bakken oil train derailed in West Virginia, “The derailment shot fireballs in the sky, leaked oil into the Kanawha River tributary, burned down a nearby house, and forced nearby water treatment plans to shut down”.  The train cars in this derailment met the current safety standards.  In 2013, a derailment occurred in a Quebec town, killing 47 people, and eventually destroying most of the city’s downtown with a blast radius of over half a mile.  Bakken oil trains currently present a real danger to our community, and this danger will only grow as Canadian Pacific increases the frequency and length of trains through our city.

What is currently being done to address these issues?  At this point, our options are limited.  Railroad companies are regulated by the Federal Government, and are entirely out of our jurisdiction.  We are, however, taking the following steps:

1. We are petitioning the Surface Transportation Board to require Canadian Pacific and BNSF conduct an Environmental Impact Statement prior to beginning construction of the new connection.  Based on several conversations our city staff has had on this topic, we have reason to believe that the railroads are taking steps to avoid this assessment.  An environmental study will reveal the actual toll on public safety and quality of life, and will allow for official community input.  I hope that the results of the study will further unite our community and government officials against the project.  On Tuesday, the Crystal City Council unanimously passed a resolution “Petitioning the Surface Transportation Board to Require an Environmental Impact Statement on Construction of Railroad Connector Track in Crystal, Minnesota”.  Other affected cities including New Hope and Robbinsdale have passed similar resolutions, and on Monday, February 16th, the MN State Senate passed a similar resolution as well.  Today, Thursday, February 19th, Governor Dayton issues a formal statement supporting our efforts.

2. We are taking steps to alleviate the resulting traffic congestion, and maintain proper emergency response time.  Constructing a grade separation in one of the intersections will achieve these goals.  On Monday, February 16th, the State Senate introduced a bonding bill appropriating money for the construction of a grade separation on Douglas Drive and the Canadian Pacific crossing.  The council and staff agreed that grade separation should be put in place even if we succeed in blocking the freight connector track.  The timeline for such a project spans at least three years, including several months of road closure during the actual construction season.  The grade separation will ensure that our emergency vehicles can pass without impediment.  It will also help in creating quiet zones around residential areas.

3. We are actively working to gather a coalition of local government authorities to unite against this project- area Mayors and council members, and our County and State representatives. Governor Mark Dayton sent a letter to the STB today expressing his concern about the project, and our local elected representatives are all engaged in the process.  Our action plan is to petition Senators Klobuchar and Franklin, and Representative Keith Ellison to exert pressure on the Surface Transportation Board to cooperate with our request for an Environmental Impact Statement.  We also want our Federal representatives to enact measures granting communities more power in matters that have a direct local effect, such as railroad expansion projects.

For more detailed information, you may read the complete report compiled by Crystal city staff.

What can you do?  Call and write Senators Klobuchar and Franklin, and Representative Keith Ellison, and ask them to petition the Surface Transportation Board to require an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS).  The EIS will allow our community to review the project details, and present our concerns to the rail authorities.

Senator Al Franken

Click to Email 

Phone: 651-221-1016; 202-224-5641

Address: 309 Hart Senate Office Building, Washington, DC 20510

Senator Amy Klobuchar

Click to Email

Phone: 612-727-5220; 202-224-3244

Address: 302 Hart Senate Office Building, Washington, DC 20510

Representative Keith Ellison

Click to Email

Phone: 612-522-1212; 202-225-4755

Address: 2100 Plymouth Ave N; Minnesota, MN 55411

2263 Rayburn Building, Washington, MN 20515

You can watch the entire council meeting here.

Listen to the work sessions here.

It appears that the current theme of our council is trains.  Our evening started off at 6:15pm with a special Bottineau Light Rail Transit presentation by the Corridor Management Committee. The Corridor Management Committee exists to advise the Met Council on all issues pertaining to the project, including design and construction.  The committee is made up of local elected officials, with Mayor Adams representing Crystal.  The members presenting were Hennepin County Commissioner Mike Opat, project manager Dan Soler, and Public Involvement representative Robin Caufman.  The main objective of their presentation was to illustrate the overall scope and status of the project, as well as plans for community outreach and education.

Some interesting points: The Federal Transportation Administration New Starts program is partially funding this $1 billion project.  The price tag is only an estimation at this point.  The FTA is involved in 12 other such projects throughout the U.S.  The rest of the financing burden falls on the State of Minnesota (10%), Hennepin County (10%), and Counties Transit Improvement Board (31%).  The Counties Transit Board consists of five counties- Anoka, Dakota, Hennepin, Ramsey, and Washington.  Their vision is to fund transit projects using money derived from the quarter cent sales tax, and the $20 per motor vehicle sales tax.  The individual breakdown of the involved entities is interesting to see- Hennepin County, State of Minnesota, Metropolitan Council, the CTIB, and the Federal Government.  Our challenge as a community is to make sure our voices are heard and respected throughout this process.  It’s easy to get lost underneath all this bureaucracy and big money.

What does this mean for Crystal?  Crystal is planned for one LRT station on Bass Lake Road and Cty 81, with the train passing through the BNSF tracks along Broadway.  Our involvement in this project is addressed in the Municipal Consent Process, outlined by Minnesota Statute 473.3994.  Crystal will have an opportunity to review and approve the design of the preliminary plans, including the location of LRT track and station, pedestrian trails, and other features.  Several months ago, our city staff compiled a list of safety and noise concerns, and asked the project managers to address these issues.  We need to make sure that these issues are not swept under the rug, are approached with respect and sincerity, and properly addressed before any plans are solidified.  Mayor Adams is currently representing Crystal as a member of the CMC, and I have been appointed as an alternate during Tuesday’s meeting.

What is the timeline?  The project is currently in the development stage, with the Municipal Consent Process taking place in 2016.  The Corridor Management Committee foresees construction in 2018-20, with projected passenger operations in 2021.

What can you do?  The Corridor Management Committee is currently recruiting Crystal residents to serve on the Community Advisory Committee, and members of the Crystal business community to serve on the Business Advisory Committee.  The committees will work in tandem with Corridor Management to advise the Met Council on the project.  Please contact me if you are interested, and I will provide the details!

These are some of the details as presented by the Corridor Management Committee.  I welcome your input on this issue.  This project has the potential to dramatically change the atmosphere of our town, and it is essential that your voice is heard and taken seriously during this time.

Now on to more trains- Canadian Pacific and BNSF freight connector track update: 

Our city staff is working hard to approach this problem from as many angles as possible to ensure that the negative impact of this project is lessened, if not entirely eliminated.  We also want to use this opportunity to push for establishment of official Quiet Zones.  Train horns are on top of the list of Crystal resident frustration.  Council member Kolb has written another thorough update on this project, you can read it here.

 Approval of Phase 14 North Lions Park Street Reconstruction Project:

The council passed a resolution approving plans and specifications, and ordering the advertisement for bids for Phase 14 North Lions Park Street Reconstruction Project.  I’ve attended the neighborhood meetings for this phase, and was able to see that the reception of this project is positive throughout the neighborhood.  Initially, residents were displeased about the proposed sidewalks.  They were, however, able to voice their concerns and have the project amended to exclude any unnecessary sidewalk plans.  The financing of this project will be through special assessments, and I have stated in the past that I do not favor this method.  Crystal is in the last stages of finishing a 20-year street reconstruction process, and it appears that the last three phases will go ahead as initially projected.  My plan is to reevaluate the financing of future street maintenance and reconstruction, and make sure that we have provisions in our budget to cover these expenses without the use of special assessments.  Special assessments are indeed a tax, and to tax our residents on top of the property taxes already paid is an excessive burden.

City Hall Safety Precautions:

Following the regular council meeting, we held a second work session addressing the recent attack in New Hope, and discussed our current security provisions in City Hall. With the input of our Police Chief, we thoroughly reviewed our current policy, and agreed on several new safety measures.  Per the advice of our city attorney, this conversation took place during a closed meeting, and the recording will not be published.  Due to previous situations that have occurred during our council meetings, city staff and council members understand the difficulty of dealing with a potentially violent and disruptive situation.  We are happy to make improvements that help keep everyone safe, while protecting the rights of individuals to freely participate in city government.

Citizen Connection Initiative:

The council is currently going through a period of prioritizing and goal setting.  We have identified a number of goals we would like to accomplish, focused mainly on increasing citizen participation, building community and preventing crime, reviewing the budget process, and increasing transparency and accountability.  We hope to have a concrete timeline and specific projects outlined in the next month or two, so we can continue to work on improving our city and engaging our residents in a meaningful and rewarding way.

That is all for now!  As always, please feel free to contact me with any questions, ideas, or concerns.  I’d love to hear from you!

Click here to watch the council meeting.

Click here to listen to the work sessions.

Council Member Kolb (Ward 2) provides detailed information on the CP and BNSF freight rail connector project.  Read his article here.  City staff, along with the council, are currently working to schedule an informational Q and A session. Senator Ann Rest, Representative Carlson and Freiberg, and representatives from MnDOT have extended their expertise and resources to assist our community with this issue.

The image below shows the location of the project area:

Time for a recap of the recent council meeting!  Tuesday evening kicked off at 6:00pm with Citizen Input time.  Citizen Input time is a half hour session designed for residents to come and speak to the council, mayor, and city staff about issues most important to them.  Unfortunately, this time has been under utilized in the past.  I hope that now more residents will take advantage of this opportunity to bring their concerns and ideas forward.  I would like to create a welcoming, relaxed, and conversational atmosphere, so residents can feel confident and at ease.  Please don’t hesitate to take advantage of this opportunity!  The next Citizen Input time will be on Tuesday, February 17th at 6:00pm.  Take a look at my calendar for more event dates and details.

Immediately after Citizen Input time we held the first work session.  The agenda consisted of just one item- to discuss the apparent plans of Canadian Pacific railroad for a new freight connector track leading to the BNSF line.  It appears that the railroad companies have been planning this project for several months, and have kept our community and city staff mostly in the dark.  The new track addition will run from the CP line near the Broadway Ave intersection, and lead to the BNSF line along Broadway Ave.  The objective of this is to relieve the high traffic CP line, and allow more trains to pass through the BNSF track, which is generally less utilized.  It appears that this project will directly affect several businesses located in the proposed new track area, forcing them to either relocate, or discontinue their operation entirely.  Also, there is a potential for longer and more frequent trains, greater traffic congestion and subsequent public safety issues, and more noise.  Overall, it appears that this does not bring any benefit to our community, and only creates more stress on an already train weary area.

So, how can the train companies plan such a project without appealing to the local community for input and approval?  How can they entirely exclude our city council and staff?  The Federal Surface Transportation Board and the U.S. Department of Transportation Federal Railroad Administration regulate the railroad industry.  Railroad companies are afforded many liberties, which include the ability to unilaterally carry out projects without any meaningful input from the local community.  At this point, the Federal Surface Transportation Board is conducting an Environmental Impact study, and will invite our “input” shortly after its completion.  Will our concerns be heard, and taken into serious consideration?  Will they amend their plans, and work with us to meet our public safety goals?  It's hard to tell.  It appears that Canadian Pacific and BNSF are entirely confident in their plans, and aim to complete the project in 2015.  The council agrees that we must advocate for our community, and we will take every opportunity to do so.  This story is unfolding, so stay tuned for further updates!

Now onto the Regular Council meeting, which convened at 7:00pm in the Council Chambers.  The highlight of the meeting was the presentation of the Outstanding Agency Award to the Crystal Police Department by the MN Office of Traffic Safety.  This award recognizes the department’s efforts to increase traffic safety in our city.  Crystal PD participates in the Towards Zero Deaths program that strives to eliminate traffic related fatalities in Minnesota.  Our community has achieved a zero death rate since 2011, and has one of the lowest crash rates in the state.  The installation of “blue lights” in our most dangerous intersections has helped achieve this goal.

The regular agenda also included the approval to purchase several new utility trucks- a truck and necessary equipment; trucks with plows; and a televising truck and trailer.  The expenditures were necessary, were well within the budget, and even left a sizeable surplus in the designated fund.

Following the Regular Council Meeting, we went on to the Economic Development Authority work session.  The outgoing community development director Patrick Peters talked us through the various functions of the EDA.  We received a map of the properties owned by the city of Crystal, talked through the timeline of selling these properties, and the possibilities of attracting new businesses to utilize some of the commercially zoned areas.

Our evening concluded with another work session.  We discussed the Citizen Connection Initiative- adding more ideas and goals to the list, and agreeing to prioritize our goals during February’s work session.  Speaking of which, take a look at this article recently published in the Sun Post!

This was my second full council meeting, and I feel like I am beginning to grasp the full scope of this job.  I love the feeling of anticipation for what’s to come, and the satisfaction of being able to help my fellow Crystal residents.  I am happy and honored to be in this position!

Click here to watch the council meeting.

Click here to listen to the work sessions.

Noodles3Off the topic of council meetings- my kids and I stopped for lunch at the new Noodles and Company this week.  Great food and ambiance, and the place was packed too!  It’s also cool to see the progress that’s being made on “de-malling” of the Broadway strip mall.  I am hopeful that our business district will continue to make improvements and Noodles2meet the needs of our community.  

Things I am looking forward to:  Beyond the Yellow Ribbon Bowling Fundraiser.  This event will be held at Doyle’s on Broadway, sign up starts at 10:30am, and all proceeds go to benefit the Veterans in our community.  Three games of bowling and lunch at the VFW are included.  Take a look at my calendar for details!

I am also going to the League of Minnesota Cities training seminar for newly elected council representatives the last week of January.

That’s all for this week.  As usual, I welcome your emails and phone calls with any ideas, questions, or concerns!