U of M seeks alternate LRT route across campus

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In a Nov. 28 letter to the Metropolitan Council, University of Minnesota officials renewed their request that Central Corridor planners look for alternatives to the Washington Avenue route for Central Corridor light-rail transit (LRT) line.

The proposed route would cross campus along Washington Avenue either at-grade or through a tunnel beneath the street, before crossing the Washington Avenue bridge. Director of community relations Jan Morlock said in an interview that the university does not consider the surface route feasible, given Washington Avenue’s congested with cars, buses, bikes, and pedestrians.

Meanwhile, the tunnel option may be too costly to pursue. Steven Dornfeld, public affairs director for the Metropolitan Council, said in an interview that the $155 million cost of the tunnel is one of four or five “major issues” as the Met Council looks to trim the now-$932 million project down to around $840 million.

In lieu of a tunnel, the university has suggested an alternative route along University Avenue and Southeast Fourth Street, crossing the river at either the 10th Avenue bridge or “Bridge #9” near Dinkytown, now used for bikes and pedestrians.

In a letter of response to the university, Metropolitan Council Chair Peter Bell said the issues raised “are legitimate and merit consideration.” Although a final decision has not been made, Bell stated “…given the current information and budget constraints and FTA [Federal Transit Authority] deadline, I have come to believe that the best alignment through the University of Minnesota is at-grade on Washington Avenue.”

The alternative route would delay the project one to two years at an inflationary cost of $40 million and could increase travel time and decrease ridership, wrote Bell.

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