Light-rail proposal sparks controversy

Max Rust

Light-rail transportation is coming to the University area, but where it will stop, nobody knows.
At a Thursday night meeting sponsored by the Cedar-Riverside Business Association, around 40 community members discussed the two potential West Bank light-rail stations identified by the Minnesota Department of Transportation.
The original station proposed by MnDOT would be tucked behind the Cedar-Riverside Plaza and is popular with many area residents wary of potential noise problems.
A new, more expensive location was described Thursday by members of the West Bank business community and others as being more beneficial to the West Bank community.
The new location, located on Cedar Avenue just to the south of Interstate 94, would require and additional $1.6 million and involve rerouting the rail line.
One of the greatest advantages to the new site, proponents say, is the greater potential for business development since the station would be on a busy street and closer to the existing Cedar Avenue businesses.
Paul Rogers, a co-chairman of the business association, said the new location would create a “moving market” for future businesses and existing businesses in the area. This market would consist of commuters to the University, Augsburg College and Fairview-Riverside Medical Cente; commuters who live in the area and work at other locations along the line; and people who occasionally visit the area and University.
“The immediate development would be maybe a coffee shop, maybe a news shop; little things like that that are logical things for commuters to be interested in,” Rogers said, adding that a second tier of development would occur consisting of businesses that would keep the commuters in the area for a longer period of time, like restaurants.
Another benefit of the new location would be safety features. A station surrounded by people and traffic that is well-lit on a busy road would be much safer for passengers than the current site where very little commercial development exists.
“Who wants to go to an abandoned station?” asked Mimi of Mimi’s African Art Gallery. Mimi supports the new station because of the safety features and the potential for business development.
Many of those against the new station live in the Cedars apartment buildings adjacent to the new proposed station location. They worry about noise from passengers using the train and about losing parking spaces during and after the construction.
Yoonju Park, an interpreter for many of the residents who speak only Korean, said they feel that the new location, presently green space, is their yard and that they don’t want to give it up.
“These people have spoken and they’ve spoken clearly, and they are the people that are going to be closest to the proposed stop,” said Margot Imdieke Cross, a member of the LRT community advisory committee, which converses with MnDOT about community concerns regarding the light-rail project.
Though Cross said she personally favors the new location, everyone’s voice must be heard.
Others on the West Bank had various views.
Mitch Anderson, a West Bank business owner, is against the whole light-rail project altogether, even if it might help his business.
“I don’t think we need one. If you’re going to build it because of traffic: This is not California; we don’t have that high of traffic yet,” he said.
Charlie Robinson, a sophomore in the Institute of Technology who lives in Middlebrook Hall, said he would use the light-rail system if he could access it easily.
“It’s more convenient to go downtown on the bus and then take the rail to wherever instead of taking the bus all the way there,” he said.
Robinson is in luck. MnDOT officials are planning with University officials to have a campus shuttle travel to the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome light-rail station for students who want to take the line to other points in the city.
Mike Schadauer, a MnDOT project development engineer for the light rail project, said future light rail plans around the University might involve a line running from downtown Minneapolis to downtown St. Paul, but no plans have been finalized.

Max Rust welcomes comments at [email protected]