A lack of leadership

No party involved in the Central Corridor has shown proper foresight.

What once seemed like a sure thing, a light-rail line serving the University, doesn’t look so certain anymore. On April 7, Gov. Tim Pawlenty vetoed $70 million for the state’s share of the Central Corridor project. Then on April 11, the University reaffirmed its support for a route through Dinkytown, instead of the one approved by the Metropolitan Council in February that would remove all car traffic and lay tracks at street level on Washington Avenue. And last week, the University sent a 23-page legal memorandum to the Federal Transit Administration, the agency in charge of the project, arguing that its input has been ignored.

We agree that the Northern Alignment route would best serve our campus, as its the only practical option left. Met Council President Peter Bell has been vague at best in his explanations for where those 25,000 vehicles would go, suggesting much of it can be diverted to East River Road and the Grainery Road north of the University. It doesn’t take an engineer to know that removing the campus’s main traffic artery and expecting peripheral streets to replace it is wishful thinking. The effect this could have on students, faculty, staff, and nearby businesses has not been properly thought out. and the hospital has already estimated a possible loss of $100 million in revenue.

There’s enough blame to go around here for everyone. If the University’s suggestions have been ignored, they should have been more vocal in bringing attention to their concerns years ago. Now, even if the Northern Alignment is approved, it will likely delay the project by a year to complete further studies of the proposed line. Bell and the Met Council deserve even more blame for dismissing alternatives without enough consideration and failing to see that the proposed tunnel was going to be far too expensive or what kind of traffic snarls would be caused by closing Washington Avenue. And the governor has shown no interest in the Central Corridor at all other than to use it as political leverage to get his favored projects into the bonding bill.

How a project of this expense and importance reached this point without a workable plan fuels the cynicism some feel that government at every level is incompetent. For all the hours spent on planning, there’s precious little consensus to show for it.