University Ave. light rail line would benefit U, says official

Nathan Halverson

A proposed light rail transit line on University Avenue will benefit the University and could affect future building expansion, a University spokeswoman said.

The plan, which has been sent by the Central Corridor Committee to the federal government for approval, would connect Minneapolis and St. Paul’s downtown centers.

It would run primarily along University Avenue and then switch to Washington Avenue just before reaching the University’s East Bank campus.

The current proposal includes two stops on the East Bank, one on the West Bank and a tunnel running from Coffman Union to Washington Avenue and Oak Street.

Jan Morlock, University community relations director, said the commuter rail would allow the University to expand along University Avenue.

Land near the three stops is the most likely area to be re-examined for expansion, Morlock said. She said also eventual expansion of campus sites farther east along the University corridor is possible.

Light rail opponents are concerned that University Avenue cannot sustain the increased congestion it would cause.

Parking is already scarce along the proposed light rail route, and some business owners said they feel the space needed would make the situation worse.

The project would also require road reconstruction, and store owners fear this could hamper sales as customers avoid the hassle of construction.

The Central Corridor Committee’s proposal to the federal government also included the alternative of expanding the current bus system. But the committee said it prefers the light rail option because it provides better long-term results. The federal government will probably contribute 50 percent of the budgeted cost.

City analysts predict that by 2018 the bus routes along the corridor will be expanded to capacity, said Steve Morris, project manager for Minnesota’s central corridor study.

Light rail supporters said any plan should focus on long-term solutions, and increasing the number of buses would not do that.

They also said light rail will open affordable neighborhoods to the University community by providing cheap and reliable transportation to campus.

Students, faculty and staff face a shortage of affordable to moderately priced housing, forcing people with smaller budgets to live farther from campus.

“If they had a light rail I’d definitely ride it,” said Katie Derdoski, a University student who lives near University Avenue in St. Paul.

Derdoski rides the route 16 bus to campus and says it is “slow and busy.”

Morlock said many people like Derdoski would benefit.

“It seems to make great sense for students,” she said. “It also creates an opportunity for faculty and staff to live closer to campus.”

Rob McCready, project director for a proposed 400-unit housing development along University Avenue in St. Paul, said the transit rail would benefit future residents because many of them will be involved with the University.

“That is going to be a natural population for us,” McCready said.

He said the company that proposed the housing, MetroPlains Development, intends for 20 percent of the units to be subsidized, affordable housing. The other 80 percent will range from $900 for one-bedroom units to $1,300 for three-bedroom units.

Full-time students might not be eligible for government assistance at this development. It depends on what kind of subsidies the developer receive for affordable housing, McCready said. Either way, he said, an individual can not make more than $13,425 annually to be eligible for single-living assistance.

Morlock said the two proposed projects will provide a great opportunity for faculty to live closer to campus.

She said the light rail will also provide easier access to the University for people who are not students or University employees.

“The University is an important cultural resource,” Morlock said. She said the light rail would help alleviate campus parking shortages.

If the federal government approves the committee’s submission, called an environmental impact statement, the next step is to hold public meetings, Morris said. After that, the committee will select the locally preferred alternative.

The option that is chosen will not be implemented until around 2008, Morris said.