Met Council approves Central Corridor planby Dan Olson, Minnesota Public Radio
The Metropolitan Council Wednesday approved a Central Corridor light rail plan.
The proposed line will cost $909 million and will connect the downtowns of St. Paul and Minneapolis. It could be in operation by 2014. The line is viewed by many as a keystone in an overall Twin Cities transit system.
However, compromises to rein in the cost of the plan are disappointments for the University of Minnesota and for neighborhood residents in St. Paul.
St. Paul, Minn. — The disappointment for the University of Minnesota is no tunnel.
The University wanted a tunnel for the train below the Washington Avenue portion of the route, which bisects the University's Minneapolis East Bank campus.
A tunnel, University officials argue, alleviates the mayhem a train will cause running on a street crowded with pedestrians and vehicles, including lots of buses.
But the cost of digging a tunnel is too rich for the Federal Transit Administration formula.
Federal dollars are being counted on to fund half the cost of building the line.
And the FTA is extremely careful, some say scrooge like, in deciding what fits in it's formula.
So, instead of a tunnel, the plan is for a transit mall on Washington Avenue.
The transit mall accomodates a train, pedestrians, maybe bicycles, but probably not buses and certainly not cars.
University Vice President for Services Kathleen O'Brien is disappointed, but undaunted.
She won agreement from the Met Council to allow the University to study an optional route around the University to the north, aptly named a northern alignment.
That route, O'Brien said, takes light rail by the new Gopher football stadium and next to a huge parcel of land, 78 acres, the University is developing.
O'Brien called the route the line of the future.
"There's the medical bioscience corridor underway in the east gateway district, just north of the football stadium. There's private investment in the same area, and there's the belief that even by the time the line is open in 2014 that there'll be four to five thousand new jobs in that area," explained O'Brien.
The University's suggestions are given serious weight, because the institution's students, faculty, staff and visitors will be a significant share of the light rail line's customers.
However, time weighs heavily on a so called northern alignment.
University and Met Council planners are under a lot of pressure to get all the numbers collected and crunched for the entire project by summer.
That's when they want to file the federal application for permission to enter the final design phase.
Many faces around the Met Council chambers Wednesday afternoon in downtown St. Paul wore smiles when commissioners approved the Central Corridor plan.
Emily Seru was not one of them.
The approved plan puts the light rail stations on University avenue in St. Paul about a mile apart.
Existing bus service stops nearly every block.
But when light rail is up and running some of the bus service will be cut and remaining buses may run less often.
Seru and other residents were unsuccessful in convincing the Met Council to include in the plan three additional light rail stations on University to cushion the blow of losing some bus service.
"We're not going to have a stop near us," said Seru. "We would have to walk about a mile to a light rail stop, and we'd have to wait twenty to thirty minutes for a bus, and right now we wait about seven, so it's pretty shocking, yeah."
The Met Council promised if things change, if somehow extra money is found, one extra station has first claim on the funds.
Extra money for the Central Corridor project is the hope of many.
Various interests have watched one idea after another - the tunnel, stations, alignments - go by the wayside as the numbers are fed into the unforgiving Federal Transit Administration formula.
Some hold out hope that a change in administration, Republican or Democrat, will somehow open the windows at FTA and allow a fresh breeze to blow in and dollars to flow out.
Central Corridor project manager Mark Fuhrmann, a seasoned veteran of countless sessions with FTA numbers crunchers, said yes, it's true there will be a new administration inside the beltway next year.
"But, the FTA guidelines aren't going to change on January 20th next year, so we'll still have those guidelines and parameters to work within."
By one estimate the FTA may decide about a year from now on the request to begin final design for Central Corridor.
That puts the project on track for construction in 2010 and completion in 2014.
- Morning Edition, 02/28/2008, 7:40 a.m.