Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Surprise, Surprise…

U’s Rail Route Would Fail

Federal Scoring,

Their Own Study Says

From the Pioneer Planet:

The University of Minnesota's preferred route for the Central Corridor would fail to pass — big time — a key scoring index needed for federal approval, according to records obtained by the Pioneer Press today.

The conclusion is contained in an inch-or-so-thick U-sponsored report that took months to complete — a linchpin of its effort to re-route the train off Washington Avenue as it courses through campus linking St. Paul and Minneapolis. A copy of the draft report, "Central Corridor Light Rail Transit: Northern Alignment Alternative Feasibility Study" by SRF Consulting Group, was examined by the Pioneer Press this afternoon.

The report's conclusion that the University's preferred detour around the northern edge of campus would not pass federal muster is being underscored over and over today, as all local officials involved in the project — except the U — try to persuade the institution to acquiesce before a key vote Wednesday.

"As of now, every effort is being made to ensure that we come forward tomorrow with an agreement, including the university," Ramsey County Commissioner and Regional Rail Authority Chair Jim McDonough said today.

But the U appears to be holding out, arguing that it, its high-powered Washington lobbying firm, and officials like U.S. Rep. Jim Oberstar could persuade federal officials to change the ingredients of their formula, according to several officials and the U's report.

The apparent impasse comes within days of all local funding being secured for the construction, following an agreement over the weekend between Gov. Tim Pawlenty and legislative leaders to borrow $70 million. The University is not paying any money for the construction; the construction budget is entirely taxpayer-funded

According to the University's report:

The U's preferred route — running along the northern edge of campus through Dinkytown — would cost less but attract several thousand fewer riders than the route along Washington Avenue preferred by local officials from Ramsey and Hennepin counties, St. Paul, Minneapolis and the Pawlenty-appointed Met Council.

Because of the fewer riders, the U's route would fail a complex federal formula known as the Cost Effectiveness Index. The current CEI sought by the Federal Transit Administration is 23.99 or below.

The Washington Avenue route, which would cost $909 million, is 23.80. The U's Dinkytown route, which would cost between $889 million and $894 million, would have a CEI of between 28.25 and 28.44, according to the U's study, which notes that 23.99 is recommended by the FTA to be considered for federal funding.

The FTA is needed to pay half the construction cost.

For several hours today, the Pioneer Press has been unable to reach University officials for a comment.

The jig is up Bob. Time to do the right thing? Openness, transparency, doing what is best for the citizens of the state - how about it? Ready to (finally) walk the talk?

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