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Corridor route by Capitol questioned

Published (2/13/2009)
By Sonja Hegman
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Plans for the Central Corridor light rail line between Minneapolis and St. Paul can’t be changed without wasting time and money the state doesn’t have.

“To change the route would be a major fundamental change that would delay the project for a year or two,” Peter Bell, chairman of the Metropolitan Council, told the House Capital Investment Finance Division Feb. 5. Members asked if the line could be re-routed slightly near the Capitol because pedestrian access will be limited across University Avenue.

“I think others need to be brought into that conversation because it has a boomeranging effect on other potential designs down the road,” Rep. Loren Solberg (DFL-Grand Rapids) said.

Capitol restoration plans have not been completed and members worried that the rail line could affect those plans as well.

Rep. Alice Hausman (DFL-St. Paul), division chairwoman, said some representatives recently discovered that the line is scheduled to go just north of the Capitol down University Avenue, through a trench that will have to be dug. It can’t go too far down, she said, because there are tunnels there, but it’s enough that there won’t be pedestrian access across the street behind the Capitol. “That plus the fact that we won’t have Capitol restoration completed; it has, of course, made some people a little nervous about the timing of our work not being ready for light rail.”

Bell said a change to the route would mean a whole new batch of environmental analysis. “We could make the most minor tweaks to the line at this point. Things that wouldn’t cause a new environmental impact study.”

Additionally the route gets a 50 percent match in federal funding, and the restrictions could cause other problems.

“Other states have bypassed the money and have said, ‘We’re building it ourselves,’ because of the severe restrictions that the federal dollars bring,” she said.

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