Met Council must trim millions from LRT plans

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Between now and Feb. 27, the date for a decision on plans for the proposed light rail project to link Minneapolis and St. Paul, the Metropolitan Council has to trim at least $150 million from its current $990 million design package.

Responsible for both design and construction of the proposed Central Corridor Light Rail Line, the Met Council heads the Central Corridor Project Team in collaboration with the Minnesota Department of Transportation, the cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul, Hennepin and Ramsey counties, and the University of Minnesota. Depending on whether plans and funding can stay on track, soil will be broken for the project in 2010 and construction completed by 2014.

The West Bank LRT and its adjacent segment of the regional transit network will link three of the largest traffic hubs in the region: downtown Minneapolis, the University of Minnesota, and downtown St. Paul. According to central corridor planners, the area is home to almost 280,000 jobs and is expected to grow to 345,000 jobs by 2030. The LRT will serve a projected weekday ridership of 38,100 by 2020 and 43,300 by 2030.

Keeping the commuter connection’ s entire bill to no more than $840 million is crucial for the plan’s funding, since the federal government’s commitment to pick up half of the plan’s cost will otherwise not be honored. And Gov. Pawlenty has sliced the state’s share of funding in half—$70 million out of the $140 million that was sought—until cities, counties and the university can tighten up expenditure proposals.

According to figures provided by Met Council Chair Peter Bell, some of these proposals include a request by Ramsey County for the rail line to extend to the concourse behind St. Paul’s Union Depot at a cost of $32 million to $58 million, depending on which of three possible routes would be chosen.

The University of Minnesota wants to tunnel under Washington Avenue through campus for more than $200 million in order to keep traffic congestion at a minimum.

Various community groups have called for rebuilding all of University Avenue to the tune of more than $50 million and for adding three more stations along the street at $5.5 million apiece.

“When you add up all the various ideas for ‘building the line right,’ the cost escalates to $1.25 billion,” said Bell in a message published on the Met website. “I, too, am committed to building the project ‘right.’ To me, that means building the best possible rail line within our very real financial constraint—and a $1.25 billion price tag for this project simply won’t fly,” said Bell.

As in any public project of this scope, public involvement in design plans has been considerable. But some groups whose influence is centered along the project’s proposed route have said that their ideas have not been given adequate attention.

A December meeting of the neighborhood group, the West Bank Community Coalition (WBCC), addressed simmering issues around plan details and created a community response to the Met’s plans for the rail’s West Bank Station.
“The Met Council is apparently not interested in engaging with the officially recognized citizen participation process to review this proposal,” charged the group’s land use committee.

Coalition representatives said that although Bell promised to meet with a community development group, the Dania Partners, his community outreach staff refused to arrange an acceptable date. Neighborhood leaders said the Met Council does not want to meet with people who may disagree with their position.

The WBCC and Dania Partners have argued that the proposed Cedar Avenue LRT station location is inadequate for a number of reasons, including problems with access from Cedar, that the station as a whole lacks the visual focus and feeling of a main entry, and that it lacks access for seniors and the disabled.

“The plans are a missed opportunity for development on Cedar,” said Doris Wickstrom, chair of the WBCC land use committee, in published documents. “They do not do service to our low income community of color and they fail to successfully integrate the University with its surrounding community. They don’t meet a standard for safety and livability,” Wickstrom said.

“There was a pretty good consensus at the Met Council’s last public meeting on Dec. 20 about final plans for the Cedar Avenue station,” LRT Project Communications Manager Laura Baenen told Southside Pride this month. “We obviously can’t satisfy everyone’s wish list,” Baenen said.

Current information about the Central Corridor LRT Project will be presented by Met Council staff at six different meetings scheduled for different Twin City locations from Jan. 24 through Feb. 5. Three additional “listening sessions” have been set up from Feb. 6 to 11 that will offer attendees the opportunity to give their input about project plans. A schedule of these upcoming meetings is available online at www.metrocouncil.org. All locations provide free parking and are on designated bus routes. Interpreters for Spanish, French, Hmong and Swahili will be available.

“A lot of big things will be finalized at the Council’s Feb. 27 meeting,” said Baenen.

PUBLIC UPDATE MEETINGS ON CENTRAL CORRIDOR LRT PROJECT

The purpose of the following meetings is to engage the public by presenting current information about the project. Attendees at these events will have an opportunity to listen to a brief project update and talk directly to staff working on the project.

Thursday, Jan. 24—8-9:30 a.m., Lao Family Center, 320 University Ave., St. Paul. Hmong and Spanish. (Free parking and accessible by bus via routes 3, 16, 50 62, 67 and 94B)

Monday, Jan. 28—5:30-7 p.m., Buetow Music Auditorium, Concordia College, 300 Hamline Ave. N., St. Paul. French, Hmong, Spanish and Swahili. (Free parking and accessible by bus via route 21)

Monday, Jan. 28—7-9 p.m., Prospect Park United Methodist Church, SE Malcolm & SE Orlin Ave., Minneapolis. French. (Free parking and accessible by bus via routes 16 and 50)

Wednesday, Jan. 30—11 a.m. – 1 p.m., Downtown St. Paul Alliance Bank Center Food Court, 55 E. 5th St., St. Paul. Hmong and Spanish. (Accessible by bus via routes 3, 16, 21, 50, 53, 54, 62, 63, 64, 65, 67, 70, 74, 75 and 94)

Thursday, Jan. 31—6-8 p.m., Central Corridor Project Office, 540 Fairview Ave. N, Ste. 200, St. Paul. French, Spanish and Swahili. (Free parking and accessible by bus via routes 16, 50 and 67)

Tuesday, Feb. 5—8-9:30 a.m., Central Corridor Project Office, 540 Fairview Ave. N., Ste. 200, St. Paul. French, Spanish and Swahili. (Free parking and accessible by bus via routes 16, 50 and 67)

METROPOLITAN COUNCIL LISTENING SESSIONS ON CENTRAL CORRIDOR LRT PROJECT

The purpose of the following listening sessions is to seek public comments on the project. Attendees have the opportunity to address members of the Central Corridor Management Committee and the Metropolitan Council prior to the Metropolitan Council making key project scope decisions.

Wednesday, Feb. 6—noon-2 p.m., University of Minnesota, Weisman Art Museum, 333 E. River Rd., Minneapolis. Spanish, French, Hmong and Swahili.
Thursday, Feb. 7—5:30-7:30 p.m., Metro Transit Fred T. Heywood Offices, 560 6th Ave. N., Minneapolis. Spanish, French, Hmong and Swahili. (Free parking and accessible by bus via routes 5, 19 and 22)

Monday, Feb. 11—5:30-7:30 p.m., Metropolitan Council chambers, 390 N. Robert St., St. Paul. Spanish, French, Hmong and Swahili. (Free on street meter parking after 4:30 p.m. and accessible by bus via routes 3, 16, 21, 50, 53, 54, 62, 63, 64, 65, 67, 70, 74, 75 and 94.)

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