Central Corridor line seeks local aid

The Met Council is asking local investors to pay more up front to keep the project on schedule.

by Cali Owings

To keep the Central Corridor light-rail line construction on schedule and stop costs from escalating, the Metropolitan Council is asking for more money up front from local partners. The ongoing lawsuit between the University of Minnesota and the Met Council has further delayed plans for the Central Corridor line, pushing back the deadline to receive much-needed Federal Transit Administration funding until September. To prevent the project from losing a construction season, spokesman Steve Dornfeld said the Met Council is requesting its local partners âÄî including the state, the Counties Transit Improvement Board (CTIB) and Hennepin and Ramsey counties âÄî to contribute $83 million now, allowing construction to remain on schedule. The federal grant is expected to pay for half of the $941 million project that will connect Minneapolis and St. Paul along Washington and University avenues. Dornfeld said the funding was set to be settled by March, but the outstanding litigation makes that unlikely. Delaying the start of the lineâÄôs construction could result in at least $30 million in additional costs, Dornfeld said. The Met Council is waiting on a âÄúletter of no prejudice,âÄù which would essentially guarantee that local investors would not have to pay more than theyâÄôve committed, Dornfeld said. As far as the Met Council knows, thereâÄôs âÄúnever been an instance where [the FTA has] given a letter of no prejudice and then not ultimately funded the project,âÄù he said. Requesting an advance isnâÄôt new; the same situation occurred with the Northstar Commuter Rail Line . Still, local contributors arenâÄôt sure they want to risk paying for part of the project before the federal government is committed. The CTIB approved to pay a portion of a $6.5 million advance Wednesday, said Hennepin County Commissioner Peter McLaughlin , the boardâÄôs chairman. Between Hennepin and Ramsey counties and the CTIB âÄî a collaborative body of counties and the Met Council âÄî the counties are responsible for 80 percent of the non-federal funding. The Met Council expects the counties to pay for 80 percent of the advanced funding, taking on most of the risk, McLaughlin said. âÄúI donâÄôt necessarily think thatâÄôs the way it ought to be,âÄù he said, adding that the state is more adequately prepared to bear the cost than the counties. But the state has already contributed all the money it had promised for the project, said Rep. Alice Hausman, DFL-St. Paul. âÄúI have just a lot of frustration about the Central Corridor right now,âÄù she said. âÄúThis has got to happen, because everything weâÄôre doing in the east metro and everything weâÄôre doing in the west metro has to be connected.âÄù McLaughlin has noticed pressure from Met Council on the CTIB to come forward with money for the project and feels they will be unfairly blamed for any delays. He said discussion will continue. In reality, Dornfeld said the FTA pushed back the deadline for funding because of two outstanding lawsuits: one with the University over the effects of vibrations on campus research, and one with a group of St. Paul business owners who allege their businesses will be adversely affected by the construction of the line. That suit was filed Tuesday.