Members of the Metropolitan Council’s Corridor Management Committee and community advocates met November 13 to discuss the Central Corridor Light Rail project. At a forum broadcast on KFAI’s “Truth to Tell” and recorded for later broadcast on St. Paul Neighborhood Network, participants provided an update of the project and outlined issues of concern.
Transit improvements between downtown St. Paul and Minneapolis have been in the works for several years. In 2006, a decision was reached to implement a light rail project. The Metropolitan Council is the regional transit authority heading the project and MNDOT would build the line, but implementation depends on federal funding to cover 50 percent of the nearly billion-dollar project.
Ramsey County Commissioner Toni Carter said the Central Corridor Light Rail is a catalyst for jobs, housing and urban development, but recognizes that there are still issues facing the community. “The challenges for our communities have not been resolved, and not everything has been done. But the funding challenge has been advanced,” she said.
Thanks to a sales tax increase that took effect on July 1 of this year—a quarter of one cent, or a nickel on $20—the project meets its local funding goal and has advanced to the next stage of the process.
“We are at the final design stage,” said Hennepin County Commissioner Peter McLaughlin. “We are competing with 10 other lines around the country that are at the same point as the Central Corridor, and there are 100 more projects nipping at our heels that want to get to that final stage. The sales tax money is going to pay for 30 percent of the cost of the project—60 percent of the non-federal share—and that’s going to give us an A+ in terms of our federal rating for funding.”
But while funding and design issues have been resolved, concerns remain about station locations, reduced bus service and hardship to St. Paul communities. Fifteen stations are planned from Union Depot in downtown St. Paul to a multi-modal station in Minneapolis near the Twins’ stadium, and three other stations—at Western, Victoria and Hamline Avenues in St. Paul—would be prepped for future development but are not part of the initial construction due to costs.
Andrea Lubav of Jewish Community Action, is a community advocate who has been involved with the project from the beginning. “More than a third of the people who live within a quarter of a mile of the actual and the planned stations—or what we call the ‘missing stations’—live between Snelling and Rice, so getting those added is very important. Because those people are poor, transit dependent and diverse, it’s very important that those communities are served. We believe they are being treated disproportionately.”
Commissioner Carter said she shares those concerns, as well as the need for other transit options in the area, since bus service on the 16A, which runs along University Avenue, would decrease.
“We recognize the importance of the planned stations, and see it as a triumph that we were able to place those foundations in the ground, and with minimal additional funds, be able to build them at later—ideally before the project is complete. Addressing the [decrease in service of the] 16A is not in the Met Council’s plan. What is in the plan are loop busses, circulators and connectors. The question is still out, and there is a need for additional and intense discussion.”
If federal funding is awarded, construction on the Central Corridor is set to begin in 2010, with passenger service starting in 2014.
To listen to a podcast of the November 12 forum, go to truthtotell.mypodcast.com.
Nancy Sartor is a freelance writer who lives in Northeast Minneapolis. She also volunteers at KFAI community radio as a reporter, programmer and engineer.