As the 2011 construction season winds down, Central Corridor light-rail crews are rushing to reopen four lanes of traffic on University Avenue before the snow flies. So far, the weather has cooperated enough to project 40 percent completion of the $957 million project by year’s end.
Officials say the work remains on schedule for a 2014 launch of rail service between the Minneapolis and St. Paul downtowns.
Since spring, drivers on University’s three westernmost miles in St. Paul have struggled with heavy traffic reduced to one lane in each direction as well as closed cross streets and construction-related delays.
It’s been a hassle, too, for businesses and institutions along the route, although some of their leaders understand the long-range benefits of modern transit for their properties.
“Let’s keep our eyes on the prize,” said Marvin Plakut, president and CEO of Episcopal Homes, which has a large senior residence at University and Fairview Avenues. “The Midway district of St. Paul is going to be a substantially superior place to live, work and have fun after light rail is finished.”
The same could be said of every neighborhood touched by the 11-mile transit line. With nearly two years of heavy construction done, signs of progress are showing up all along the route. Some milestones so far:
- A rebuilt skyway over Fifth Street in downtown St. Paul reopened on Nov. 1.
- Track has been laid along a mile of University West and six blocks in downtown St. Paul.
- Structural steel is up at six future stations, including the Raymond Avenue stop on MN2020’s doorstep, where new sidewalk and street lights are in place as well. Station foundation work or platforms are in the ground at three locations in downtown St. Paul and on the University of Minnesota’s Minneapolis campus. Concrete work will continue as long as the weather allows.
- A bridge over Interstate Hwy. 35W was completed to connect the Central Corridor to the Hiawatha line at the Metrodome station.
- Strengthening of the Washington Avenue Bridge over the Mississippi River will be half completed any day now and traffic shifted to the reconstructed south side to let work move to the north side. When it’s finished, trains will run down the center of the bridge’s lower deck with a single lane of vehicle traffic on either side.
Limited work will continue through the winter on the bridge, some stations and the operations and maintenance facility in Lowertown St. Paul with little effect on motorist traffic.