Regents consider options for linking U to LRT system

Justin Ware

The Board of Regents discussed a plan Thursday to give students a new option for transportation around the metro area: the light Rail transit system.

The rising cost of fossil fuel energy sources is one of the driving forces behind the Twin Cities’ search for alternate forms of public transportation. One of the most sought-after solutions has been the LRT system that would connect areas of high activity, such as the University.

The LRT project is already underway with the Hiawatha Line which will connect downtown Minneapolis with the Minneapolis/St. Paul International Airport and Bloomington’s Mall of America. The line is scheduled for partial operation in fall 2003.

State government and city officials have yet to determine where and how to connect the Hiawatha Line with the rest of the Twin Cities.

The Central Corridor, which would connect downtown St. Paul and Minneapolis, might include a University route and is a high priority on many LRT planners’ agendas.

During the regents meeting, Harvey Turner, University director of facilities management planning and programming, presented four possible routes to bring LRT to the University. The presentation focused on finding a solution to best meet the University’s transportation needs while considering the impact the line would have on both pedestrian and automobile traffic.

Regents speculated one of the possible LRT routes could reduce Washington Avenue automotive traffic up to 50 percent.

Turner also stressed the importance of the line’s aesthetic value in the University community.

“The college campus is unique,” Turner said. “It’s not a central
business district.”

Two of the four possible routes run along the North end of campus coming over the Mississippi River on the No. 9 railroad bridge, using the railroad corridor currently in place near the intersection of 15th Avenue and Fourth Street in Dinkytown. Other options include using the Washington Avenue bridge to cross the river.

Turner referred to a 1992 study that evaluated traffic and environmental impacts and found the best option was a below-ground Washington Avenue route.

Although LRT planners have discussed options to integrate the University into the Central Corridor line for nearly a decade, the planning is still in its preliminary stages. The committee is expected to bring a recommendation before the Board in July.

The entire Twin Cities LRT system is slated for completion in 2020. The proposed University route could be completed in about 10 years.

According to some experts, that might be exactly when the Twin Cities and the University need it most.

Turner estimated that by the year 2010, humans will have used more than half of the planet’s fossil fuel reserves. If trends continue, scarcity of resources will surpass the problem of rising fuel costs.

Turner emphasized he does not feel an LRT system should or would replace the automobile.

“It’s not a competitive thing. I support both,” Turner said. “The automobile is not going to go away.”

 

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