City looks nationally for light-rail ideas

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The University wouldn’t be the first U.S. university to have a light-rail train on campus.

The Central Corridor Management Committee will be taking lessons from universities that have already put light-rail lines through campuses.

On Nov. 5 and 6, members of the committee will visit the light-rail trains that go through the University of Utah in Salt Lake City and San Diego State University.

Laura Baenen, Central Corridor project spokeswoman, said the committee is interested because it needs to decide whether the part of the Central Corridor slated to go through the University campus should be at street level or in a below-ground tunnel.

“There are pros and cons for both,” Baenen said.

The decision, which will probably be made sometime next year, will be based on project cost and Minneapolis’ layout, she said. The goal is to have the flattest route possible.

Most lines, light rail or otherwise, go above ground because it’s cheaper.

The light-rail station servicing San Diego State University is underground, but the rest of the line is above ground.

Rob Schupp, communications director for the San Diego Metropolitan Transit System, said the station is underground because the university is on top of a hill.
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“If the station was at the bottom of the hill, people would have to walk up the hill,” he said. “Putting it underground did allow it to be right in the heart of campus.”

Sandra Cullen, assistant director of Parking and Transportation Services at the University, is a committee member and will be going on the trip. She said the committee will look at how these lines managed to combine above-and-below-ground light-rail transit in a way beneficial to the universities.

Cullen said the planning process in San Diego was similar to what is going on now in the Twin Cities. The metropolitan council was in charge, but the university played an important role in deciding what would be best for its campus.

The Twin Cities Metropolitan Council is designing and constructing the Central Corridor, but the University is one of six partners helping with the project. The others are Hennepin and Ramsey counties, the Minnesota Department of Transportation, Minneapolis and St. Paul.

Three of the Central Corridor’s 16 stations will service the University. There will be one in Stadium Village, and one on the East and West Banks of campus.

Baenen also said the three most expensive aspects of the plan are the possible tunnel near the University, the reconstruction of University Avenue and the final station in St. Paul.

The cost of the Central Corridor is currently estimated at $930 million.

The federal government, which will be funding half the cost of the corridor, is forcing planners to reduce the cost. However, it is also urging them to make the line capable of carrying three-car trains in the future.

“This project will not happen unless the cost is trimmed,” Baenen said.

According to the Metropolitan Council, construction should begin in 2010 and the line will be open by 2014. There will be an estimated 38,100 riders every weekday by 2020.

The University of Utah in Salt Lake City has experienced less parking congestion and traffic congestion in the area since the opening of the light rail, according to its Office of Sustainability. Fewer students are commuting in their cars, and more are using public transportation.

Other universities serviced by light rails include Portland State University, the University of Houston and the University of Baltimore.