The other bridge problem

Planners might need to reconsider the Washington Avenue light-rail route.

Ever since the light rail, or the Ventura Tollway as it’s known in some quarters, made its debut in 2004, University students have been awaiting the day when they, too, will be able to take the train directly from campus to another corner of the Twin Cities. If recent reports are any indication, the wait might not be a pleasant one.

Last week, the Pioneer Press reported that the retrofitting needed on the Washington Avenue Bridge to make the light rail possible will cost an estimated $30 million, a figure likely to rise if the piers under the bridge need to be reinforced to support the added weight. The report also stated that the bridge would likely be under construction longer than a new bridge, restricting access to both levels. Coupled with the $155 million price tag for a proposed tunnel to travel beneath part of Washington Avenue on the East Bank, the problems with the planned route become obvious.

With the addition of the work needed to retrofit the Washington Avenue Bridge, the cost for the Central Corridor stands at $962 million, a figure than needs to be chopped down to $800 million in order to qualify for federal funding. We believe that the University needs to take stock of its options on where it wants this line to run.

It is simply not feasible to have the main pedestrian artery on campus, a bridge crossed by students multiple times daily, shut down for the amount of time required to finish this work. The most obvious alternative to the Washington Avenue route is along University Avenue, through Stadium Village and Dinkytown and over the new Interstate 35W bridge to downtown which is expected to be completed late 2008 or early 2009. The new bridge will have the capability to support the light rail.

There are problems with this route, as it will not run though the heart of campus, require more environmental impact studies and probably add a few minutes to trips between Minneapolis and St. Paul, but we feel that this might be the only way to serve the University’s desire to have a more than functional light-rail line, and avoid an intolerable situation while that line is being built.

Not a foot of track has been laid yet, but we shouldn’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good when it comes to the light rail and the University.