Keeping the “U” on track


In what may put an end to the most over-reported and under-understood controversy in Minnesota public affairs this year, two official planning groups overwhelmingly settled this week on a Washington Avenue route for light rail transit through the University of Minnesota’s Minneapolis campus.

The only significant dissenter remains the University itself, which is still clinging to its hopes for routing Central Corridor trains around the campus proper on railroad right-of-way known as the Dinkytown Trench. The ‘U’ contends that closing Washington Avenue to cars in favor of light rail would snarl auto traffic, endanger pedestrians and foul up sensitive laboratory equipment.

Those points are at least arguable. What seems a lot more specious is the University’s complaint that running trains down Washington would reduce access to its medical center and other facilities. That’s car-centric thinking at its most blatant. Won’t thousands of daily light rail riders enjoy much better access, without parking hassles, to the heart of the campus along Washington than is now available? And wouldn’t the more remote Dinkytown detour – which would attract fewer riders, slow the trains’ run between the Minneapolis and St. Paul downtowns and exceed federal cost-effectiveness guidelines – do much less to improve the ability to get to and from the campus?

Light rail will be a tremendous boon to the university amid the transportation challenges of the 21st century. But ‘U’ leaders keep looking this gift horse in the mouth, threatening its chances for $450 million in federal aid, without which the project won’t go forward.

The affected cities, counties, state agencies and neighborhood and business groups are all on board with the Washington Avenue route. It’s time for the University of Minnesota to stop insisting on its vision of the perfect and get behind what’s good for the Twin Cities, the state and the University itself.