Light rail debate continues as some question safety issues

Latasha Webb

With the country questioning mass transit’s safety, some people are wondering if light rail transit is a risky investment. And business owners near the University Cedar-Riverside LRT stop disagree about whether the benefits outweigh the detriments.

University buses will make LRT connections at a downtown station near the Metrodome and at a Cedar-Riverside stop on the West Bank. The expected increase in foot traffic gives some business owners reason to celebrate and leaves others looking to get out.

Raul Sacta, owner of four metro businesses, said he is behind LRT.

Sacta owns Baha Riverside Restaurant, which will be directly behind the Cedar-Riverside LRT station, and Interim Maco, Inc., a shop within three blocks of another station.

“On the highway, it can take a half an hour to an hour to get from the Mall of America to my (Cedar-Riverside business),” Sacta said. “With the train – boom – 15 to 20 minutes, right to my doorstep.”

In addition, he said, “It will be helping a lot of people who don’t have cars, don’t have money for insurance. Now they can go back and forth to work. To me it’s 100 percent positive.”

But Whiskey Junction owner Gary MacKenzie predicts his business and those near it will lose critical parking spaces to light rail riders.

“They haven’t provided any parking to people who want to ride, and the only answer they give us is, ‘pay someone to watch your lot,'” he said. “The neighborhood and the businesses are going to have to absorb all these people. We know it’ll be devastating.”

People going to sporting events at the Metrodome will park in Whiskey Junction’s free lot and take the light rail to avoid paying for parking near the Metrodome, MacKenzie said.

But what MacKenzie sees as a problem, Sacta sees as a blessing.

“There will be more business coming in. People who never drove past my business before will now be dropped off outside the door,” he said.

Dayna Kennedy, LRT project communications manager, said the project is ahead of schedule.

“This is a very complex project,” she said. “To date, the project is on time or ahead of time. We had a really good handle on our time line and cost before we ever broke ground.”

But she is not surprised some people disapprove of the project.

“The dialogue about light rail has gone on for decades,” Kennedy said.

And the talks could continue as legislators, the Federal Aviation Administration and the Metropolitan Airports Commission reevaluate the light rail station at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport.

Concerns have been raised that the LRT station’s design, which includes two tunnels under the airport, could put travelers at risk.

While MacKenzie said he would be relieved if the project were halted to redesign, Sacta and project officials think it would be counterproductive.

Sacta said he believes the station can be made safer without stopping the project. He compared the situation to buying a house.

“I’m buying a house, and I already put a down payment on the house. Then I say, ‘Hmm. This has a bad roof. I don’t want to live there?'” Sacta said. “No. I already put thousands into that house. I fix the situation the best I can. That’s what it is. Why stop now?”

 

Latasha Webb covers business and welcomes comments at [email protected]