Regents vote to support Washington Avenue light rail route, approve budget

Regents also approved additional funding for “Driven to Discover” campaign and discussed UMore park.

by Betsy Graca

The Board of Regents voted to approve the Washington Avenue Central Corridor light-rail route and the 2008-2009 budget during their meeting Friday, and discussed plans for UMore Park.

The board also approved an additional $400,000 in funding for the “Driven to Discover” ad campaign during their Thursday meeting, bringing the contract for the campaign to a total cost of $4.4 million. Those funds will cover ads through June 2009.

The new funding will go toward making the campaign, which is being run by the Minneapolis-based ad agency Olson & Co., reach statewide in the coming year.

Light rail

The University’s approval will give planners support for the at-grade route through campus.

However, the approval is contingent upon several agreements, according to a statement released by the board.

These include an effective and efficient mitigation plan, the avoidance of a negative economic impact on the University’s Academic Health Center and hospital, an understandable traffic plan and the assurance of a safe environment.

The board heard several testimonials regarding the light rail on Thursday, including Metropolitan Council chairman Peter Bell, Ramsey County Commissioner Jim McDonough and Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak.

Bell said the Central Corridor is currently competing with 10 other transit projects in the United States, and that a projected 42,000 riders would use the corridor on weekdays by 2030.

He added U-Pass users were up 113 percent from 2007, proving the University community has a strong partnership with public transit.

Bell said he didn’t think the University “would be left holding the bag” in financial terms, but he couldn’t say it wouldn’t have to spend a dime in the process.

Friday morning, Regent Anthony Baraga said Bell’s assurances to closely watch the safety aspects of the light rail, the fact that the northern alignment was not feasible and the rising cost of fuel made him confident enough to vote in favor.

Student representative Dustin Norman addressed several student concerns, including safety, health and the worry over students having to go into their own pockets to cover funding.

However, all regents voted for the Central Corridor with the exception of Venora Hung, who said she was concerned with votes being based on only a preliminary engineering design that would impact the campus for the next 100 years.

2008-2009 budget

The Board of Regents also unanimously approved the budget plan Friday, with a $77.8 million incremental increase.

The budget includes safety and contractual obligations, student aid, facility operations, infrastructure investment and support, programmatic investments and employee compensation.

A 7.25 percent tuition increase was approved. The regents said the Founders Free Tuition Program and the Minnesota Resident Scholarship would assure many students would not be impacted by the increase.

Difficult economic times and reduced support from the state also played a large role during the budget.

“I fear for my grandchildren’s future,” Regent David Metzen said, noting other countries have learned the importance of investing in higher education, and the United States should follow.

University President Bob Bruininks said in a five-point plan, “Financing the Future: Ongoing Challenges,” that he hopes the University will “build an enduring and mutually beneficial partnership with the state.”

UMore Park updates

Vice President for Statewide Strategic Development Charles Muscoplat addressed the regents Thursday afternoon about UMore Park history, progress and future plans.

Several public forums will be held in June, including two this week, intended for the University to hear thoughts from the general public.

The park, a 5,000-acre site in Dakota County that the University hopes to turn into a livable and sustainable community for as much as 30,000 people, now has four different scenarios to be evaluated.

The possibilities are a planned community, a new urban center, a lifestyle community – where neighborhoods would be built around outdoor amenities – or a new sustainable community.