Light rail, heavy words

Bully tactics and intransigence have obscured light-rail negotiations.

The latest breakdown of negotiations over the Central Corridor Light Rail Transit project centers on the University of MinnesotaâÄôs refusal to green-light summer construction on preparatory âÄúadvanced traffic improvementsâÄù across the East Bank campus. When asked if the broader argument over mitigations and liability is related to the easement dispute, Vice President of University Services Kathleen OâÄôBrien acknowledges that âÄúthey are integrated.âÄù In both cases, she explains, the Metropolitan Council is failing to ensure sufficient protection of the UniversityâÄôs operations and equipment. ItâÄôs a fair expectation, though thereâÄôs certainly room for compromise in the details. The University isnâÄôt exactly being inspired to compromise, though. OâÄôBrien explains that Met Council Chairman Peter Bell has systematically used âÄúpublic intimidation to put pressure on the University.âÄù OâÄôBrien insists that âÄúbullying will not work.âÄù Bell has indeed used the press aggressively to portray University officials as obstructing civic progress at every opportunity. Yet, even if the Met CouncilâÄôs approach amounts to bullying, the trouble is that their message has proven louder than the UniversityâÄôs. The tide of public opinion has been turned against us, and weâÄôre being forced to spend precious political capital at a time when itâÄôs needed elsewhere. As the process moves into court-ordered mediation, granting the construction easement would be prudent for the University. It would mollify a frustrated public, keep the project on schedule and reaffirm the UniversityâÄôs commitment to progress. In the big picture, damaged relationships or a tarnished reputation would prove more harmful to the UniversityâÄôs mission than disrupted lab equipment.