Thursday, February 14, 2008

Rybak Embraces Cass
Or, RT Falls in Line, Waiting for U

From the Pioneer Planet:

Rybak endorses car-free 'transit mall' at U

Campus tunnel plan proves too expensive


Pioneer Press

Article Last Updated: 02/13/2008 11:47:36 PM CST

The tunnel at the U isn't dead, but they're reading it its last rites and resurrecting Cass Gilbert.

That's one way to summarize Wednesday's developments as key decision-makers struggle to agree on the final route of the proposed Central Corridor light-rail line linking St. Paul and Minneapolis.

On Wednesday, Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak came out in favor of a bold "transit mall" where trains would roll through the University of Minnesota's East Bank campus at ground level while traffic on Washington Avenue would be forced elsewhere.

The U hasn't made up its mind yet.

The idea evokes a century-old plan of St. Paul-native architect Cass Gilbert, who envisioned a neoclassical grass mall stretching from Northrop Auditorium to the banks of the Mississippi River. Replace the marble statues with light-rail cars and hybrid buses, and you've got something along the lines of the new interpretation Rybak supports. It's unclear how other roads would handle the cars shunted from Washington Avenue.

Rybak's endorsement adds to the growing consensus of decision-makers ready to bury the U's once-favored plan - a pricey tunnel - as well as a northern route through Dinkytown, as a Feb. 27 deadline for the final route approaches.

Also Wednesday, it became clear that the transit mall was the only route through the East Bank campus that would satisfy a complex cost-and-ridership formula needed for the federal government to pay half the price of the project and get it built by 2014.

Kathleen O'Brien, vice president for university services, said the U believes the route through Dinkytown is "the alignment of the future." But she respects the pressing deadline and is attracted to aspects of the transit mall, which would stretch from Oak Street to the river, allowing only transit and emergency vehicles.

"There are certainly other objectives and at least one of those is Cass Gilbert's vision of how the university would work," she said. Later, she added that university officials would reach a decision on the three options "within a week."

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