Opinions on the Central Corridor


Stephen Gross: “Street-level light rail passing through Washington Avenue, however, is indeed affordable and feasible.” / Arvonne Fraser: Redesign the route – “As we learned from the bridge that fell down, it is better to do things right than rush and pretend that things are fine.” / Peter Bell: “[We] must not let the perfect be the enemy of the pretty darn good…”

Street-level LRT through campus is affordable and feasible

by Stephen Gross, Marcy-Holmes resident

I’m a graduate student at the U, a Marcy-Holmes resident and a big-time transit enthusiast. Since I moved to Minnesota last year, I’ve been very excited about the prospect of the Central Corridor. As with any major transportation project, the relevant government entities have to make difficult but realistic decisions about what is feasible and affordable. As much as I would like to see an underground bullet-train pass through campus, it’s not going to happen. Street-level light rail passing through Washington Avenue, however, is indeed affordable and feasible.

Opponents complain the pedestrian traffic on Washington is too high, and that a street-level train would get in the way. As a student, I spend plenty of time on Washington. I have found that most students cross Washington on crosswalks, at intersections, when the traffic lights indicate to do so. Students are not uncontrollable scofflaws who will jump in front of the first train to come down the road. University opposition to this plan treats students as mischievous children who won’t learn how to deal with a light-rail train in their midst.

Why don’t we give students the benefit of the doubt? We have a unique opportunity to put a viable light-rail plan in place here in the Twin Cities. Why haggle over a $150 million tunnel, when we can be realistic about our ability to adapt to changing traffic patterns? I’d rather see street-level light rail than no light rail whatsoever.

Editor’s note: Fellow enthusiasts of transit and development might enjoy the authors’ blog, The Gross Report

Central Corridor — better right than rushed

by Arvonne Fraser, Marcy-Holmes resident

As a resident of this university area virtually all of my adult life, who lives near the bridge that fell down, I urge the [Metropolitan] Council to do this LRT line right rather than quickly. Although I am president of the Marcy-Holmes Neighborhood Association, I [write] in my individual capacity.

I share the university’s position that a surface line up Washington Avenue would be dangerous and inefficient. Washington Avenue simply is not wide enough for all the trucks, cars and pedestrians that have to use it, plus an LRT line.

Closing Washington Avenue to little but the LRT line would also be disastrous. One only has to drive East River Road to know it is simply not feasible for use by all the traffic currently on Washington Avenue. It is a parkway, part of the Great River roads system. In places, it is so narrow that if a truck is parked at the back of the university hospital, traffic becomes one lane, with a cliff on your left if going upriver. Alternatively, traffic could be diverted to University [Avenue] and Fourth Street through our neighborhood, but those streets are overburdened with or without the 35W bridge.

Thus, the best alternative for the LRT is a northern route, using either the new 35W bridge, which our neighborhood successfully campaigned to be built to hold future LRT, or Bridge #9, now a pedestrian walkway from the university’s east and west banks, formerly a freight train bridge.

The Dinkytown trench, as we call it, could easily be used for LRT. That trench is a railyard, a rail line to nowhere but for one spur ending near the Stone Arch bridge. Diverting the LRT to the north would serve the campus [and] the new stadium and link back to University Avenue beyond the stadium.

I and many of my neighbors urge you [to] take time to redesign a northern LRT route. As we learned from the bridge that fell down, it is better to do things right than rush and pretend that things are fine.

Editor’s note: Ms. Fraser’s comments were formally submitted to the Metropolitan Council on Feb. 6. Since then, the Marcy-Holmes Neighborhood Association has passed a resolution similar to her comments.

Compromises will be needed if Central Corridor LRT line is to be built

by Metropolitan Council Chair Peter Bell

“Let’s build it right.” That phrase often is used when people talk to me about the proposed Central Corridor light-rail transit (LRT) line between downtown Minneapolis and downtown St. Paul.

It is hard to argue with that common sense call to action. That is, until you realize people mean very different things when they use the phrase “build it right.”

Ramsey County officials mean that the 11-mile line should be extended to “the concourse,” a block behind St. Paul’s Union Depot, at a cost of $32 million– $58 million over the originally planned alignment (depending on which of three possible routes was chosen).

The University of Minnesota’s idea of “build it right” includes a tunnel under Washington Avenue through campus at a cost of more than $200 million.

Some community groups define “build it right” as rebuilding all of University Avenue at a cost of more than $50 million and adding three more stations along University at $5.5 million apiece. And the list goes on from there.

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

The reality is this: we cannot afford to build this project unless the federal government pays half the cost. And the federal government won’t partner with us unless we reduce the cost to about $840 million and meet their cost-effectiveness requirements.

Moreover, Gov. Tim Pawlenty has proposed $70 million in state bonding dollars for this project. But he indicated he would be open to considering a higher amount if the stakeholders “get their act together” and agree to reduce the project’s cost.

When considering all the heart-felt requests from the various groups, it is important to remember that no rail transit line has been built in this country without major compromises being made.

You may recall that when the Hiawatha LRT line was first proposed, the some business leaders wanted the tracks to go underground in downtown Minneapolis. That idea, however appealing, had to be dropped because of the enormous cost.

The original plan for the Northstar commuter rail line had it running all the way to St. Cloud. However, because of the costs, the segment from Big Lake to St. Cloud had to be deferred until sometime in the future.

The Central Corridor LRT project offers an exciting opportunity to build upon the success of the Hiawatha line. It will provide improved access to employment, economic and educational opportunities along the corridor and beyond. By 2030, we project that it will serve more than 43,000 riders per day.

Time is growing short for compromise. By late February, the Metropolitan Council must make the difficult decisions about the scope of the project so we can win necessary state funding, apply for federal approval to begin final design and stay on track for completion of the line by 2014.

That means our project partners and community advocates must bring a spirit of compromise to the table and avoid drawing lines in the sand. We must not let the perfect be the enemy of the pretty darn good when we demand that the Central Corridor LRT line be “built right.”

Originally published in January 2008 as the monthly “Chair’s message” by the Metropolitan Council.