The Central Corridor Light Rail Transit project is on track to open on schedule in 2014; however, representatives from local businesses remain miffed about how much of the project has evolved.
For roughly 90 minutes, the Legislative Commission of Metropolitan Government heard about how businesses have been negatively affected by construction of the 11-mile line that is scheduled to run between downtown St. Paul and downtown Minneapolis.
Despite being scheduled to provide an update on the $957 million project, representatives from the Metropolitan Council were not given the chance to address the raised concerns. Instead, Rep. Peggy Scott (R-Andover), the commission chairwoman, said that they’d be provided the opportunity at a later date.
After the meeting, Mark Fuhrmann, deputy general manager for Metropolitan Transit, said that all 18 stations along the route are being worked on and that University Avenue is scheduled to be open for full traffic by the end of the year. According to a document that was to be part of the council’s presentation, the project was 68 percent complete in July 2012 compared to just 32 percent in September 2011.
Among concerns addressed by business representatives were customers unable to easily access businesses and the accompanying financial hit and Metropolitan Council accountability.
Ryan Wilson, who owns a UPS Store in St. Paul’s Midway area, said information put together by his parent company indicated he lost 2,223 customers in 2011 because of the light-rail construction. He has since had to lay off three people and now has just one employee besides himself.
Wilson also spoke about how construction crews erected a fence outside his business in April 2011, but work did not begin for five months. The Metropolitan Council took the business community and “gave us cancer,” he said.
Mai Nguyen, who owns Mai Village with her husband, said the restaurant may soon be out of business due to lost sales. A sheriff’s sale is scheduled on the Vietnamese restaurant for next month.
With all the construction, she said her customers were oftentimes “so confused” on how to get to the restaurant.
We knew there would be a lot of impact on a project that was shoe-horned into a tight space, said Jack McCann, president of the University Avenue Betterment Association.
Scott said the council must have “pots of money somewhere” to help these businesses.
In addition to a $1.2 million business marketing campaign, the council has set aside $4 million in loans for small businesses. Since its inception in 2011, more than 130 business loans, totaling $2.1 million, has been allocated along the line. The maximum amount is $20,000 per business that demonstrates revenue loss. Twenty percent of the loan is forgiven for each year the business remains along the corridor.