Community responds to transit projects

The Central Corridor line would make several stops near the University.

Elizabeth Cook

In open hearings throughout the Twin Cities this week, the public will get to voice its opinions regarding the Central Corridor transit project.

At Monday night’s meeting at the Radisson Hotel Metrodome, a majority of residents and workers supported the idea of a Central Corridor light rail transit line.

The Central Corridor is an 11-mile route between downtown Minneapolis and downtown St. Paul. If a transit line is built, there will be stops on or near the University campus.

Currently, the project’s draft environmental impact statement is up for comment. On June 5, that comment period will close, and the coordinating committee will make recommendations to the Metropolitan Council before the plan moves into preliminary engineering.

If all follows this path, construction would begin in 2009 and begin running in 2012.

The decision will be reached this summer, said Steve Morris, project manager for the Central Corridor.

There are two ideas up for comment – light rail and bus rapid transit.

Under one of the current ideas, the light rail would travel from the Metrodome to the West Bank, across the Washington Avenue Bridge and then enter an underground portal just east of Coffman Union. It would continue until just east of Oak Street Southeast and Washington Avenue Southeast, where it would come back to ground level. Then it would keep going to University Avenue Southeast and to the state Capitol, said Jan Morlock, director of community relations for the Twin Cities campus.

The light rail is budgeted for $840 million, Morris said. But that estimate is based on the project being completed in 2008, which isn’t likely to happen, he said.

According to the Central Corridor draft environmental impact statement, the bus rapid transit would cost an estimated $120.5 million.

With either option, the federal government will pay 50 percent of the bill, and the other half would be broken up – 33 percent from the state and 17 percent from involved counties.

Morris said the problem with this idea is it wouldn’t meet the ridership’s needs, and with the light rail option, one or two trains is equal to seven or eight buses.

“(The bus rapid transit is) cheaper, but runs out of capacity,” Morris said.

But bus rapid transit still is an option on the table, he said.

Concerns range from construction impact to environmental impact to safety, Morris said.

Commuting directly affects the University, said Kathleen O’Brien, the vice president for University Services, who also attended Monday’s meeting.

She said 66 percent of students, faculty and staff members use some form of transportation other than a vehicle to get to school.

Also, there are more than 17,000 students using a U-Pass and more than 1,300 faculty and staff members using a pass.

History and political science senior Jake Hipsman said he uses the light rail now and would use the new one if it’s made.

“I definitely think it would help take traffic off of University (Avenue Southeast),” he said.

Hipsman said there are express buses to go that way, but they are a little harder to take.

Business owners along Washington Avenue Southeast have mixed feelings about the proposed light rail.

Roman Garcia, a supervisor at Chipotle on Washington Avenue Southeast, said he thinks the light rail would help get more business.

“This new line, some people going even further might want to stop for a quick meal,” he said.

But Garcia did voice some concern about the construction process and how it would affect business.

Julie Hasan, manager of Manhattan Loft, also on Washington Avenue Southeast, said it’s hard to say whether the light rail would be good or bad.

Hasan said her main concern is for pedestrians.

“We don’t necessarily rely in customers who drive,” Hasan said. “As long as they could accommodate pedestrians (it will be fine).”