Light rail project construction slated to begin early next year

by Anna Nguyen

Construction will begin on the Hiawatha Avenue Corridor light rail project in early 2001, pending the expected congressional approval in mid-January of more than $334 million in federal funding.
The 11.6-mile LRT system is the first step in the construction of an above-ground mass transportation system running between downtown Minneapolis, the Minneapolis/St. Paul International Airport and the Mall of America.
The Metropolitan Council, in partnership with the Minnesota Department of Transportation, Metropolitan Airports Commission, the University and other interested groups, will coordinate the estimated $625.5 million project.
The projected opening date of the 26-car line is late 2003, with full service to the airport and MOA in late 2004.
The state of Minnesota, Hennepin County Regional Rail Authority, Metropolitan Airports Commission and Minnesota Department of Transportation will provide additional funding for the project.
The use of taxpayer money has caused concern among opponents of LRT.
Darrell McKigney, president of the Taxpayers League of Minnesota, said LRT is “exceptionally expensive” for the claimed benefits it will provide. Maintenance and operation costs will continue to eat up taxpayers money, he said.
“The operating cost (per passenger) will not equal the cost of a ticket,” McKigney said. “Taxpayers will have to make up for this difference.”
He suggested other alternatives to highway congestion by improving roads and providing a more dedicated bus service.
Matt Clark, president of the Minnesota Student Association, said buses and roads alone could not relieve the congestion. He said metro travelers need more commuting options.
“With light rail, a trip between the U and the airport and mall will take the same amount of time, anytime, any day, in any type of weather,” Clark said.
Currently, Metro Transit carries approximately 17 percent of the estimated 50,000 people entering and leaving the University, said Metropolitan Council Chairman Ted Mondale.
The number of mass transit riders is expected to rise with the addition of LRT to the transit system, he added.
“With the U-Pass and LRT, the congestion and parking situation will most likely improve,” Mondale said.
But it will take time for light rail to be integrated in the suburbs and the city before it has any positive impact on congestion, said Lance Neckar, University associate dean of landscape architecture.
Neckar and landscape architecture research fellows Mary Vogel, James Pewttinari and Sishir Chang did preliminary designs in 1998 of six of the 17 proposed LRT stations in Minneapolis.
Two stations will be located near the University campus by Cedar-Riverside and the Metrodome. Express buses will connect the Cedar-Riverside station with the University campus.
Jennifer Lovaasen, Metropolitan Council outreach coordinator, said other light rail lines connecting Minneapolis to St. Paul and Minneapolis to outer suburbs, have been planned for the next 20 years.

Anna Nguyen welcomes comments at [email protected]