The current state of the Central Corridor light rail transit debate: Mix half-baked engineering with overheated funding threats and watch as public opinion congeals around a premature choice. Both dailies ran editorials Sunday extolling an at-grade Washington Avenue route and excoriating the University of Minnesota for insisting on taking a hard look at alternatives to closing the busy cross-campus thoroughfare to all traffic. The opinion leaders led with the same foot and danced the same steps, with small differences. The PiPress chose an odd metaphor that required picturing the U of M driving a gold stake through its own heart, while the Strib urged the U to hurry up and get “comfortable with the only real option that remains.”
The tug of war between the university and the Metropolitan Council over the route has played out behind the governor’s game of chicken with the Legislature over Central Corridor funding. Longtime residents who know the area best have made reasonable arguments for and against the closure of Washington Avenue SE. But after last week’s revelation that engineers mismeasured the route’s length in the university area by 1,300 feet, residents are understandably resistant to glib guesstimates that yet-to-be-determined mitigation will take care of any problems created by forcing 2,500 vehicles per day onto neighborhood streets not built for speed. Memories of choked local roads after last year’s I-35W collapse (pictured) are far too fresh for campus-area denizens to simply swallow the Strib’s assurance that “a plan is in the works to cushion the surrounding neighborhood from ill effects from the diversion of auto traffic.”
Last week Gov. Tim Pawlenty got an LRT committee’s final decision delayed by seven days to give the university one last chance to fall in line with “the creative thinkers in charge of the Central Corridor line,” as the Strib calls them. High noon for the U will come at 1 p.m. Wednesday when the Central Corridor Management Committee convenes a special meeting in the Metropolitan Council’s chamber. Three hours later the Met Council gathers in the same room, with “Central Corridor Light Rail Trail Alignment” on its agenda.