Central corridor hearing draws light rail supportersby Marisa Helms, Minnesota Public Radio
The first public hearing on transit plans for the central corridor yielded a number of enthusiastic comments in favor of building light rail along University Ave. The corridor runs along University, connecting downtown Minneapolis and downtown St. Paul.
Minneapolis, Minn. — The hearing in Minneapolis was the first in a series of meetings to gauge public opinion on transit options for the corridor.
Before the hearing began, project manager Steve Morris explained the goal is to investigate systems that will move more people more efficiently.
"We all know that we have increased our congestion, and we plan to increase our population, and we need to have a transportation system that will serve our needs now and into the future," Morris said.
Those who testified were asked to comment on a recently completed draft environmental impact study, and to say which transit option they want. Should light rail or bus rapid transit be the mode of transportation along University Ave.? Or do citizens want the status quo and keep the avenue the way it is, with car and bus traffic?
Overwhelmingly, those who testified said they wanted something different, and that light rail is their preferred mode.
The hearing took place at the Radisson Metrodome on University Ave., on the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis campus. The location brought out several university representatives,who repeatedly stood up for the light rail option.
"Light rail right outside campus here would make life easy, and also a lot more efficient for thousands of faculty like myself, not to mention all the students and staff who have to come into campus every day," said engineering professor Arthur Erdman.
Though the proposed line would come near the University of Minnesota, most of the line would serve St. Paul and the more than 1,000 businesses on St. Paul's side of University Ave.
Clay Lambert owns a gas station on the avenue, and was the only business owner to testify.
"We are in support of the light rail transit. We believe it's good for business along the University corridor," Lambert said. "I can say not all businesses are in support of it. But I think it's more of a concern of the construction itself. Me in particular, I'm all right with that. I think we can deal with it, and overcome it."
Again and again, light rail repeatedly won out over the bus alternative.
Several of the some 80 people sitting in the audience wore large blue and yellow buttons reading 'L-R-T Now!'
Among the boosters was Keith Downey with the Minneapolis Regional Chamber of Commerce.
"Transit is not just about moving people from place to place any longer. It is now about strategically transporting people to fill business needs for employers, and to foster new economic development around jobs, housing and infrastructure," he said.
Downey and other supports says light rail would contribute to the region's future prosperity. Even though the light rail option would cost nearly $1 billion to build, those who spoke in support of it seem to think the price is worth it.
Boosters pointed to the success of the Hiawatha line in Minneapolis as proof of light rail's certain success on University Ave.
But there were a few attending the meeting who were not caught up in the successes of light rail. Among the handful of people who spoke against the light rail options was environmentalist and perennial political candidate Leslie Davis.
"I'm pretty annoyed about the way you folks are going ahead and spending money that we don't have, and borrowing money that future generations are going to have to pay, and paying interest, interest, interest on the debt, debt, debt," Davis said.
The funding proposal for an $840 million light rail system on Univesrity Ave. calls for half the money to come from the federal government, and the other half from Minnesota state, city and county coffers.
This session the state legislature authorized nearly $8 million for light rail on the central corridor.
Though supporters have a long way to go before raising the $420 million in matching money, they see the public support and state investment as encouraging signs that light rail will some day become a reality on University Ave.