U officials push for Dinkytown light rail

Last Monday, Gov. Tim Pawlenty struck down $70 million in Central Corridor project funding, but the University isn’t dropping interest in its stake in the project.

While the Metropolitan Council approved an at-grade Washington Avenue route in February, University officials said the area doesn’t need added traffic.

Officials have instead pushed for a Northern Alignment route – running primarily through Dinkytown, rather than Stadium Village.

light rail

CAMPUS TRANSIT FACTS
– 80,000 people come to the Twin Cities campus each day.
– Annually, half a million people visit the University hospital and clinics.
– 68 percent of daily commuters walk, bike, bus or carpool.
– One third of the projected daily Central Corridor riders will be generated by the University.

NEGATIVE IMPACT OF WASHINGTON AVENUE AT-GRADE ROUTE
– Would permanently eliminate one of the two main campus traffic arteries – either Washington Avenue or University Avenue/4th Street
– Would create safety conflicts between trains and pedestrians
– Would reduce ease of access to University hospital and clinics – an annual $100 million loss in revenue, according to the Academic Health Center
– Would negatively impact Stadium Village businesses

POSITIVE IMPACT OF NORTHERN ALIGNMENT ROUTE
– Would use existing railroad right-of-way to minimize disruptions
– Would avoid air-quality issues that result from increased traffic congestion
– Would strengthen connections between campus, southeast Minneapolis and West Bank communities
– Would provide development opportunities for Dinkytown businesses

Source: Presentation to Board of Regents

University officials, including Vice President for University Services Kathleen O’Brien, presented results of a preliminary University study of that route at Friday’s Board of Regents meeting.

The study indicated the Northern Alignment would cost $16 million to $18 million less than the Washington Avenue option, and would cut travel time by a little more than a minute, because of fewer stop lights.

When presenters mentioned increased Washington Avenue traffic could create business losses at nearby Academic Health Center facilities, several board members expressed concern.

Regent John Frobenius said the Washington Avenue line would be “a dagger through the heart of the University of Minnesota.”

Former regent and Metropolitan Council Chairman Peter Bell told the Star Tribune on Friday that the study’s estimated costs are premature, and the University is “jumping to a judgment before all the facts are in.”

The University plans to get the Northern Alignment assessed for feasibility and included in the Metropolitan Council’s environmental review process.

Focusing on the needs and safety of the campus community is crucial, Regent Chairwoman Patricia Simmons said.

“We can’t lose the ability to serve the people we’re committed to serve,” she said.