Thursday, May 1, 2008

Further Wrangling, Or...

My Consultant is Right, Yours is Wrong

From the StarTribune:

The Central Corridor got a boost at the State Capitol on Wednesday, but a mile away, planners of the light-rail line were using phrases like "lethal moment" and "into the abyss" to describe their continued wrangling.

An 11-mile route that includes banning cars from Washington Avenue in southeast Minneapolis was approved in late February, but the University of Minnesota wants trains to go through Dinkytown instead and is paying to study the option.

Peter Bell, chairman of the Central Corridor planning committee and the Metropolitan Council, said he understands the U's "very legitimate" concerns about congestion and who would pay to relieve it. But he tried to hammer home that choosing the so-called northern alignment would delay the start of the $932 million project by a year and raise its cost by at least $40 million.

Mark Fuhrmann, project director, noted that the Twin Cities was one of 10 metro areas around the country vying for $1.6 billion in federal funds. The deadline for applying for this round of grants is September; federal money is expected to pay for half the line.

"I'm not voting for anything that delays this project," said Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak.

A consultant for the U talked about how the northern alignment might work and how it would cost about $15 million less than the current plan. Then Fuhrmann listed the northern alignment's unresolved issues, such as railroad right-of-way negotiations and removing four units of low-income housing in the line's path.

Rybak wondered whether either party was giving him the full story. The engineers, he said, are "working for two different groups who, I believe, are not in neutral. ... We really need to get real with each other before this next meeting."

Kathleen O'Brien, vice president for university services, defended the consultant's work and the U's intentions. "From the get-go, I have asked for this study to not be sugar-coated, to be legitimate and objective," she said.

In late March, the U sent the Federal Transit Administration a 23-page memo outlining concerns about the Central Corridor process, but "we are not seeking a delay," O'Brien said.

The planning committee meets again May 21, when new ridership estimates should be available. "We either have to do a 'go' or a 'no go' decision on the northern alignment," Bell said.

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