Bloomington student urges neutrality

For the second time in as many years, a Bloomington man plans to publicly ask the Lakeville City Council to consider adopting a neutral stance regarding revival of the Dan Patch Rail line.

Eric Ecklund, 23, plans to address the council at its March 6 meeting. A University of Minnesota student working toward an urban studies major with emphasis on transportation planning, Ecklund said he believes if Lakeville officials back down from the city’s stated opposition to development of the rail line, their action will help forward ideas for passenger rail on Dan Patch between Minneapolis and Northfield.

“If the Lakeville City Council agreed to be more neutral, I think that would help boost discussion on the local level between communities and MnDOT (Minnesota Department of Transportation) of what they would want from the Dan Patch Line,” Ecklund said in an email to the newspaper. “It also might encourage St. Louis Park to take a second look at their stance on the Dan Patch Line.”

Lakeville’s official position opposes any state or federal funding that supports the study, planning, design or engineering of the Dan Patch Corridor, according to the city’s 2017 Legislative Priorities document, unanimously approved by the City Council in January.

The document states due to limited funding, priority should be given to expanding existing road and bridge infrastructure and also the bus rapid transit system.

Established in 1908 by Marion Willis Savage, owner of the Dan Patch race horse, the rail corridor connects Minneapolis and the southern suburbs and intentionally runs directly through Lakeville because Savage built Antlers Park as a major attraction to draw rail passengers.

The rail corridor expanded and at one point included freight traffic, but eventually closed and a portion of the line next to County Road 50 in Lakeville and stretching into residential backyards is used by Progressive Rail as a parking lot for unused freight cars.

Neighbors throughout Lakeville have long protested the rail car storage, citing safety and aesthetic concerns in addition to falling property values.

The city also has also taken an official position in its Legislative Priorities document seeking federal laws or rules that prohibit railroad car storage in urbanized residential neighborhoods without written consent of the city.

State Sen. Matt Little, DFL-Lakeville, called the legislative ban against discussion of opening the Dan Patch line “a bit silly,” stating legislators should always be able to talk through issues, but said rail on the Dan Patch line does not make economic sense.

“We need real investment in highways, bridges and buses right now,” Little said.

State Rep. Jon Koznick, R-Lakeville, said he opposes spending money on trains and the state needs to be using resources on roads and bridges.

He said opening the Dan Patch line would be costly, create environmental problems, and noted strong community opposition to the proposal, citing concerns about the commotion and speed passenger service would create through the city.

“The vast majority of our community doesn’t want our tax dollars spent on another expensive train,” Koznick said. “To be clear, trains do not relieve congestion and are more expensive to build and operate than bus. People have some romantic idea about trains and the fact is that trains are not great transportation policy for Lakeville. It’s a ridiculous idea and the issues and numbers don’t support a passenger or light rail train here. There are good and practical reasons the Legislature put a prohibition on further state planning in 2002. A bad idea doesn’t get better with age. It might make a good bike or walking trail, the city of Savage is free to explore that option, with their tax dollars.”

Ecklund, who said he has been interested in trains for most of his life, remains determined to garner support for the project. He has created a Facebook page, “Support the Dan Patch Rail Line,” that has 161 “likes.”

On that social media page, Ecklund’s support of the rail line has spurred some disagreement with Lakeville residents, most who expressed opposition to the idea or commuter rail through the city, citing issues about costs and the possibility the tracks would be shared with freight carrying hazardous materials.

Some of those who have commented are part of another Facebook page, “Move Progressive Rail’s Train out of Lakeville neighborhoods,” which includes a link to a petition to ban residential rail car storage in Lakeville. The petition has generated almost 300 signatures toward their goal of 500 signatures.

Multiple signers complained about the visual blight caused by the many graffiti-splattered rail cars and how the cars frequently block road access for lengthy period of times.

Tyler Tetrault of Lakeville called the rail cars a “visual nuisance” and wrote they have caused major delays for himself and his teammates when they are moved.

Tetrault said there are several blind crossings without appropriate equipment to notify oncoming cars of their imminent move.

Ecklund said reviving the Dan Patch line would force rail car storage to end permanently in Lakeville.

In a Facebook post, he said the passenger trains would be stored in a facility rather than on the tracks.

Lakeville resident Timothy Cleveland posted, “Good. Then store them in Minnetonka, Edina, etc. Lead by example. Lakeville is not a rail yard.”

Dennis Shannon posted that opening passenger rail on the Dan Patch line would cause trains to run through some residential back yards, but Ecklund said the passenger trains would be short and quiet.

He said expanding roads will do little to alleviate traffic, and with Lakeville’s growing population more options for getting around are needed.

Ecklund said while his primary focus is the Dan Patch line, he would also like to get discussion going about the Dakota Rail Corridor between Minneapolis and Hutchinson, the Minnesota Valley Line between Minneapolis/St. Paul and Mankato, and the Red Rock Corridor between St. Paul and Hastings.

“I’m trying to get the word out, get more supporters, and bring some discussion to the local, regional, and state levels of government on this topic,” Ecklund said.

Lakeville officials are unlikely to lend support to Ecklund’s cause.

Mayor Doug Anderson said he supports the city’s legislative position opposing any use of the Dan Patch line for commuter rail.

“I think it comes down to where’s the best place to put funds associated with transportation,” Anderson said. “And we’ve got higher priority issues in Lakeville associated with transportation than spending money on a commuter rail line.”

He said higher priorities are County Road 70 and the County Road 50 bridge at Interstate 35.

“These are much more important to us from a community standpoint as well as an economic standpoint,” Anderson said.

He added the rail line is in “really bad shape” and would need a lot of repairs to operate again.

Anderson also cited concerns regarding the rail car parking in Lakeville, but said Progressive Rail is a good business that has painted over the graffiti at times and is doing good work to support Airlake Industrial Park.

“We’ve got to find a point of understanding in terms of the rail cars,” Anderson said. “There’s safety issues, and the graffiti is annoying.”

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