Gov.’s line-item vetoing puts Central Corridor light rail in jeopardy

Many called the Central Corridor dead last week when Gov. Tim Pawlenty vetoed $70 million in state funding for the project, but some are keeping hope alive.

The $909 million light-rail line, which would span across the Twin Cities and through campus, needs state funding to be eligible for federal money. However, Pawlenty’s line-item veto sent shockwaves across the Legislature and angered some transit planners.

Rep. Alice Hausman, DFL-St. Paul, said the line’s future looks grim after the governor slashed its funding from the Legislature’s comprehensive bonding bill.

“Resurrecting the Central Corridor alone is virtually impossible,” Hausman said. “There’s just no way you can deliver 81 votes on that. So this was a nearly fatal blow.”

In order for any House bill to include funding for the Central Corridor, it would require 81 out of 134 votes, a supermajority, she said.

Pawlenty has vetoed funding for the project for the past three years, she said.

The Republican governor and DFL-dominated Legislature would have to compromise soon in order to meet the Federal Transit Administration’s deadline this September to enter final engineering in 2009. Construction would begin in 2010 and service would begin in 2014.

Missing the deadline could add $40 million to project costs.

The University is studying a possible change to the line’s alignment. The Northern Alignment would take the line through Dinkytown instead of Washington Avenue through campus, but it could also delay the project for up to a year.

There are rumors floating around the Capitol that the University wouldn’t mind if lawmakers couldn’t come to an agreement this year, Hausman said.

The delay would leave transit planners more time to study the alignment, which the University has touted as a possible solution to congestion problems with putting light rail on Washington Avenue.

But there are too many uncertainties for the University to come to that conclusion, as there is no state funding yet, University Director of Parking and Transportation Services Bob Baker said. He added that the University isn’t sure the Northern Alignment would delay the project for a year.

“The picture’s just too cloudy to go there right now,” he said.

The University is dependent on a good transportation system, Baker said, calling the Central Corridor an opportunity to improve that.

Baker said Metropolitan Council Chairman Peter Bell indicated after the veto that project planners should continue their work.

“We haven’t slowed down,” Baker said. “I think you have to be optimistic.”

Pawlenty’s office did not return calls for comment.