… in the Minneapolis Star Tribune notes that the most charitable description of what’s been going on at the clubby University of Minnesota medical school would be “bizarre.”
Friday, April 9, 2010
The Gloves Come Off
To no one's surprise...
From the Pioneer-Press:
University of Minnesota told: Deal on light rail, or else
Lawmakers urge eminent domain to break impasse over Central Corridor
A pair of powerful legislators sent University of Minnesota officials a firm message Thursday: The Central Corridor light-rail train will roll, and you'd better make way for it or we'll make it for you.
If the U doesn't stop blocking construction work for the line, the lawmakers said, the state might condemn the campus land needed for the project.
Senate Transportation Committee Chairman Steve Murphy, DFL-Red Wing, and House Capital Investments Committee Chairwoman Alice Hausman, DFL-St. Paul, introduced bills giving the Metropolitan Council — the agency responsible for building the line that will run through the campus — the power of eminent domain to take the U property it needs.
The chairmen of the House and Senate transit subcommittees immediately scheduled a joint hearing on the bills for Monday.
Hausman said she and Murphy proposed drastic action because the university's "pattern of noncooperation" threatens to delay and drive up the cost of the $957 million project.
The legislative maneuver was the latest round in a long-simmering dispute between university administrators and state and local government officials backing the light-rail project.
Two weeks ago, Ramsey County commissioner Jim McDonough and Hennepin County commissioner Peter McLaughlin, who had been trying to mediate the dispute, harshly criticized the U for "arrogance and pettiness" and "wasting taxpayers' dollars" by delaying the project.
Robert Bruininks responded that he was trying to protect the school's research labs.
The Met Council is seeking easements from the U to proceed with road improvements around the campus to handle traffic when Washington Avenue is closed next year. Washington Avenue is scheduled to be transformed into a mall for trains, buses, bicycles, pedestrians and emergency vehicles, but not cars or trucks.
University officials have refused to grant the easements until they and the Met Council agree over how best to protect sensitive and expensive U research equipment near the rail line. The two parties are scheduled to start court-ordered mediation of that larger issue next week. The mediator held a preliminary meeting with U officials Thursday and is scheduled to meet with the Met Council today.
The U rejected Met Council Chairman Peter Bell's request for easements to start work on traffic improvements on the East Bank this spring while they work out remaining differences. That refusal could delay the project, adding $1 million to the price tag.
"Every disinterested party who has looked at this has said the university has adequate legal leverage already, and their refusal to allow this easement is harming the project right now," Bell said.
U lobbyist Donna Peterson said school officials hope mediation will resolve all the issues quickly so construction can start on schedule this spring.
"We're trying to work with the Met Council so that when the train is up and running, those very sensitive labs along the Washington Avenue corridor are protected from vibrations and electromagnetic interference," Peterson said.
In January, the council got a $3 million low bid for the road improvements, which had been budgeted for $4 million. The council must give the contractor notice to proceed by the end of this week so he can start construction in May and complete it in August, according to a staff report.
"We timed it to coincide with the U's request that we do it in the summer, after spring semester ends and before start of fall classes," Met Council spokesman Steve Dornfeld said.
Delaying the projects until fall, as U officials have suggested, could force the council to rebid the project and could increase the cost. Postponing it until next spring would cost an entire construction season and boost costs by $30 million to $40 million, the council estimated.
Hausman said the U's refusal to grant easements "shows a pattern of noncooperation. I predict we will see that pattern continue."
Legislators said they aren't eager to give the Met Council the power to condemn university property.
"This is an attempt to at least have a hearing on a tool to assure that we can move forward with the largest public works project in Minnesota history," Hausman said. The council has already spent $70 million on it.
House Transit Division Chairman Frank Hornstein, DFL-Minneapolis, said he scheduled the hearing to prod the U and the Met Council to resolve their dispute quickly.
"We're holding the hearing because the Legislature is getting a little impatient," Hornstein said. "We have worked hard to make sure all the funding is in place. This is now a priority project at the national level. So we need to get on with it."
It would be difficult, but not impossible, to pass the legislation this late in the session, he said. But he hopes it's unnecessary.
"My interest as the transit chair is to make sure that this project gets done on time and on budget," he said.
at 8:12 AM