MSA, GAPSA want light rail under Washington Avenue

The two student government groups passed a resolution in September.

Amber Kispert

While many people agree the Central Corridor Light Rail Transit line will be good for the University, the project has sparked much debate as to whether the tracks should run underground or at-grade.

The Minnesota Student Association, and the Graduate and Professional Student Assembly passed a joint resolution in September recommending the light rail run underground.

Bree Richards, GAPSA vice president for student affairs said the group chose to express its preference now because the project is in preliminary engineering.

“We have to speak up now, otherwise we won’t have time,” she said.

As primary planner for the Central Corridor project, the Metropolitan Council will have to reach a decision about an underground or at-grade rail line before the completion of preliminary engineering in August.

Construction on the Central Corridor is slated to begin in 2010, and the line should be functional in 2014.

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Ross Skattum, MSA vice president, said student safety was a primary concern for him.

“I believe the Central Corridor should go underground because safety is a fundamental aspect of this project and the only way for the light rail to safely traverse the pedestrian and traffic-heavy Washington Avenue,” he said.

Putting the Central Corridor line at-grade on Washington Avenue would also add to the congestion and take away parking on Washington Avenue, Skattum said

Kristen Denzer, GAPSA president, said, “With an at-grade train, there’s a delayed time for traffic; there’s delayed time for crossing the street.”

Currently the Metropolitan Council has $930 million as an estimated cost for the project.

“We already know the price has to come down,” Laura Baenen, communications manager for the project, said.

If the Central Corridor line was to run underground in a tunnel, the cost would be significantly more than an at-grade station.

The Metropolitan Council is currently in the preliminary engineering stage and has begun to discuss its options. It’s started looking at cost, safety issues and ridership estimates, Baenen said.

There are benefits and downsides to both options, and the Metropolitan Council needs to weigh the pros and cons, she said.

“We are trying to look at all angles,” she said. “But everyone is tugging this way and that.”

One of the benefits of having the light rail at-grade is that it is in plain view, Baenen said, and some people are hesitant about going underground.

She said there is also something to be said for the underground tunnel – it would result in fewer automobile and light-rail accidents.

MSA and GAPSA both hope the Metropolitan Council will take into account the safety of students when making their final decisions.

“Having the light rail at-grade would decrease the safety of all who travel daily on Washington Avenue,” Skattum said.

Once the Central Corridor line becomes a reality, it will benefit both students and faculty, Denzer said.

“It just will be a really huge benefit and convenience for students and faculty who live farther away,” she said.