Central Corridor gaining ground

Despite additional money being given to the University, concerns about how the light rail could affect research continue.

Central Corridor gaining ground

Allison Hugill

The Central Corridor light-rail line is on course to begin its final design stage this fall despite recurring concerns from the University of Minnesota. Vibrations from the line, electromagnet interference and construction could have major effects on University research in buildings along Washington Avenue. The Metropolitan Council is awaiting federal consent to go into the final design stage on the project, which is expected to come this fall. University officials said there wonâÄôt be any final decisions on vibration mitigation until that approval is secured. The Met Council also hopes to get approval next summer of a federal grant that would pay for 50 percent of the projectâÄôs $941 million price tag. The 11-mile light-rail line will connect downtown St. Paul and Minneapolis, running down Washington and University avenues with stops on the East and West Bank campuses as well as in Stadium Village . The project moved ahead quickly through the summer. On Aug. 18, the Federal Transit Administration indicated the project met FTA and environmental guidelines needed to continue. On Aug. 26, the Met Council announced that due to inflation adjustment, an additional $14 million was available for the project. Part of that increase went to the University for electromagnetic interference and vibration studies. The University will now have $4.8 million to help mitigate the effects of electromagnetic interference and vibration. The city of St. Paul recently agreed to fund one of three additional stations on the line in the city. The relocation of public utilities in downtown St. Paul has already begun. âÄúWeâÄôve been implementing engineering for the past 20 months and are nearing completion of the process,âÄù said Met Council spokesman Steven Dornfeld. Of the 15 stations that will be in service in 2014, Dornfeld said he expects the two stations on campus to generate the most business. Laura Baenen, communications manager of the Central Corridor LRT Project, said she hopes a blueprint for the project can be created by next month. âÄúBy next spring we want to have an engineering plan approved to begin construction,âÄù she said. If the federal grant is approved next summer, half of the project would be paid for by the federal government. Thirty percent would come from the Counties Transit Improvement Board, 10 percent from the state of Minnesota, and 10 percent from Ramsey and Hennepin counties. Construction is expected to start next summer with service beginning in 2014. Professors still voice concerns As for mitigations with the University, Dave Van Hattum, policy and advocacy program manager for Transit for Livable Communities, said he expects the University to reach engineering agreements with the Met Council soon. But professor Dave Thomas, who conducts research in Nils Hasselmo Hall on Washington Avenue, said he thinks an agreement between the parties will be tough to reach because of differing priorities. âÄúThe U is mostly concerned about not having its research interrupted, whereas the train builders are interested in getting the train built,âÄù he said. âÄúItâÄôs not that they donâÄôt care, but they donâÄôt care as much as we do.âÄù Dornfeld said he continues to work with the University to address their concerns, including building a transit pedestrian mall on Washington Avenue to divert traffic to other streets.