Mass transit line hinges on federal approval

Building the Central Corridor, which would serve the University, might start as soon as September.

Angela Gray

Before students can make their way from downtown St. Paul to downtown Minneapolis along the Central Corridor transit line, an environmental impact statement must be created and approved.

Kathleen O’Brien, vice president for University Services, said large transportation projects require environmental impact statements similar to large building projects.

According to Steve Morris, the Central Corridor project manager, the environmental impact statement, which was sent to the Federal Transit Administration for approval five or six years ago, could be released for public hearings this spring. That would mean construction around the University could begin as early as the start of the next academic year.

The National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 requires federal agencies to prepare an environmental impact statement for any major action they undertake that might have significant impacts on human health and the natural environment.

The Metropolitan Council is the agency in charge of the environmental impact statement for the Central Corridor, which looks at air quality, noise, potential soil pollution, traffic impacts, historic preservation and wildlife safety.

The Federal Transit Administration will score the project on several factors to determine whether it should receive federal money.

“The Metropolitan Council and Ramsey County expect to hear from the federal government on our score and our ability to move forward,” O’Brien said.

Once they do, the Met Council will complete an environmental review process for solving the problems the Federal Transit Administration found, she said.

Then the preliminary engineering begins.

“If we hear from the government in April, (then) next September we would start the preliminary engineering,” she said.

During initial construction, the Met Council would create a steering committee including representatives of Ramsey County, Hennepin County and the University.

The University community, O’Brien said, is estimated to make up 25 percent of the line’s ridership.

Regent Dave Metzen, chairman of the Facilities Committee, said that before building “big things you need to ask what does this do to the environment, does it pollute it, make it better or worse?”

“People used to build things without even worrying about the impact on the environment,” he said. “Now you build just about anything and there is some environmental impact.”

The Northstar Corridor transit line currently is dealing with turtles nesting around the lines, O’Brien said.

“I don’t think we have any turtles on University (Avenue), but we might have a problem with birds or something, and that is what the environmental impact statement takes into account,” O’Brien said.

Morris described the environmental impact statement as a process of identifying all possible impacts.

“When the draft is released to the public, public hearings are held to bring up issues the public might have,” Morris said.

He said that when the draft is released it will be distributed “widely to the public.”

Some preliminary drafts have been released in libraries, Morris said, but they don’t have the same effect a final draft does.

Morris said several consultants have worked on the environmental impact statement draft.

Consultants have looked at transportation impacts, financial impacts and transit usage impacts.

“We’ve been seriously working on this project since summer 2001,” he said. “We hope the environmental impact statement will be released this spring.”

Depending on whom you ask, some share Morris’ enthusiasm and others, such as applied economics sophomore Chris Nigbor, don’t.

Nigbor said he lives in University Commons and walks everywhere.

“Tearing up University seems like it’d be detrimental to the University.”

Shannon Gullette, a psychology sophomore, said she supports the Central Corridor.

“I don’t have a car and in the long run I think it’d be really convenient for college students.”

Lily Langerud contributed to this report.