State reverses position on light-rail inclusion in rebuilt I-35W bridgeby Brandt Williams, Minnesota Public Radio
Gov. Pawlenty says the new I-35W bridge can be designed to hold light rail without causing significant delays to its construction. The news is encouraging to Minneapolis city officials who've advocated for the inclusion of rail transit in the new bridge plan. The governor added that such plans will be costly, although he gave no dollar estimates.
Minneapolis — Initially, Department of Transportation officials were concerned that designing the new I-35W bridge to include the capacity to hold light rail would delay the rebuilding process. They said building such a bridge would require the use of heavy construction equipment that could require environmental reviews and delay construction.
But at the request of proponents of light rail transit, including the Minneapolis City Council, MnDOT engineers did more research.
"It does appear from an engineering standpoint, you can build this bridge within the contours of what the federal government will allow without having to trigger a whole new set of environmental procedures to build LRT capability or strength into the bridge," Pawlenty said on his Friday radio show.
But Pawlenty added that the fortifications needed for light rail capability would add construction costs that would not be reimburseable by federal emergency funds. Pawlenty didn't say how much that might cost.
The additional cost of LRT is one of several issues that may complicate the rebuilding process.
The city has the power to delay the bridge reconstruction, and officials have released a list of issues they'd like the new bridge design to address. Pawlenty says he's negotiating with Minneapolis city officials about some of the items.
"The bottom line is: having the bridge be LRT capable, strengthened to that point, is a significant issue," the governor said. "That's one I think we could potentially accomodate if we can get some understanding about the scope and limits of the other city demands on other aspects of the project."
City officials don't call them demands. Councilmembers call them a statement of principles, a document which the Council adopted earlier Friday. Besides the inclusion of LRT and/or bus rapid transit, councilmembers want the new bridge design incorporate a memorial to the people who died in the collapse. They also want MnDOT to set goals for hiring minorities and women equal to or above the city's standards.
The Council's list also includes a number of so-called "prudent investments." Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak says a few of those are at the center of discussion between the city and the state.
"There's still a few issues outstanding," according to Rybak. "It mainly has to do with congestion on either end of the bridge, which is something that I'm sure all Minnesotans care about. But I'm increasingly confident we can get something done here and it's because we've compromised -- the governor's compromised -- in the name of saying this unusual situation requires us to move very quickly."
City councilmembers who drafted the list of principles wanted to make sure that the new bridge design addresses bottlenecks on either side of the bridge, especially the north end, where five lanes will be reduced to three.
Rybak didn't offer specifics about what kind of concessions the city has made, other than to say its final list of principles is a lot more narrow than it could have been.
- All Things Considered, 08/17/2007, 5:20 p.m.