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Central Corridor On the Way

February 21, 2011 By Riordan Frost, Policy Associate

Central Corridor’s light rail is on its way. The same ding, ding and rolling steel sounds filling the air around the Hiawatha Line through Minneapolis will be heard in St. Paul sometime in 2014. While preliminary street work has already started, major construction begins over the next few months.

Concerns still loom about businesses surviving and neighborhoods thriving through construction. Some neighborhoods along the line are hosting meetings for planners to provide construction previews, preparing residents, business leaders, and property owners for what’s expected.

Minnesota 2020, which sits on University Avenue, had been invited to St. Anthony Park Community Council’s recent meeting. There, the Metropolitan Council, Walsh Construction, and St. Paul and Ramsey County planners briefed neighbors, property owners and business owners.

Folks along University from Emerald Avenue to Transfer Road should expect a March construction start. Between then and July, traffic patterns will shift. Crews will be able to keep two-way traffic flowing though. By the end of November, on-street parking from Emerald to Hamline Avenue will be eliminated, as crews prepare to lay tracks and construct stations.

While business owners, property owners, and employees all have mixed feelings of excitement, worry, and realistic anticipation, no one who attended the meeting expressed anti-light rail sentiment. They’re focused now on surviving though construction.

However, not all concerns will be accommodated, such as better ways to modify parking or a municipal parking ramp’s construction. There has been $2 million allocated for a variety of small parking lots along the 11-mile line. That would make it impossible to build a central 600-car parking ramp, which has a $7 million price tag. One planner also pointed out that if they opened a process to tailor parking changes to businesses, it would occupy all of their time, which would be a waste without the resources to enforce the new parking.

The meeting also cleared up recent reports about the restricted flow of federal dollars. Congressional conservatives have put the 'New Starts' transit program on the chopping block, jeopardizing at least $394 million in federal funding.

Here’s the deal. The full funding grant agreement for Central Corridor has been sent to Congress, where it must survive a 60-day 'courtesy review'. The fear is that the agreement will not last that long, but there is a different view from the ground-level. At our Central Corridor meeting, St. Paul City Councilmember Russ Stark said there is no real fear on his part that the funding will not come.

The funding might be slowed, creating a cash flow problem for Ramsey and Hennepin Counties, which would have to provide more money up-front for the project. The conservatives’ short-sighted cutting agenda would present an obstacle for an infrastructure plan that has proven its merit many times, but wouldn’t come close to derailing it.

Back to resident and business concerns about construction. It is an unfortunate but necessary disruption. However, local community councils, such as St. Anthony Park’s, are stepping up to supplement Met Council and St. Paul’s pre-planning and construction mitigation efforts.

St. Paul Chamber of Commerce’s Discover Central Corridor campaign also supports local businesses along the light rail line. While the construction phase will be tough, there is an enormous upside: an efficient, low-cost transportation option and new infrastructure.

The St. Anthony Park segment’s July completion will bring brand new sidewalks, curbs, street surface, and landscaping. Not as easy to observe are the improved utilities being relocated and installed already.

Central Corridor’s light rail will be enormously beneficial when constructed. Important investments always require upfront costs and some sacrifices. As we enter the construction season, count on Minnesota 2020 to keep you informed from the ground-level.

Photo credit: Wayan Vota, creative commons

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  • Bill Graham says:

    February 22, 2011 at 10:24 am


    We can better see how LRT will function on University Avenue by having a look at how other cities have already done it.  Use the Google Earth satellite photos (not Google Maps) by zooming down to about 500 feet elevation, then tilting the picture to horizontal and “flying” the LRT routes to the ends of the lines.  It’s fun and instructive.

    A good example is the new Yellow Line in Portland, OR, opened about 6 years ago.  Start in downtown at the Steel Bridge over the Willamette River near the Lloyd Center on the east bank.  Follow Thunderbird Way north along the river to North Interstate Avenue and continue north for several miles.  You will see a pair of tracks in the middle of the street passing thru residential and older, commercial developments.  Notice the staggered station stops with left turn lanes.  This line is meant to be extended across the Columbia River to Vancouver, WA, but now terminates at a large industrial plant south of the river.

    A better example is the new Airport LRT line in Seattle.  Start at the LRT station in front of International Airport terminal.  Follow the tracks north along Interstate 5 and Highway 599 to Martin Luther King Jr. Way.  The LRT runs north in the center of MLK Way for several miles.  You will see 2 traffic lanes in either direction, staggered LRT station stops with left turn lanes for cars, and LRT stops spaced about a mile apart.  This is an older residential and mixed use neighborhood much like St Paul’s Midway.  Notice the large commercial developments at Othello and Graham Streets that resemble our Midway Shopping Center.  At McClellan Street where the LRT enters a tunnel, there is a huge retail complex that incorporates a feeder bus terminal where several trolley bus lines meet.  Each of these retail complexes has an LRT station stop.

    Seattle’s LRT exits the first tunnel, passes through some industrial areas, and enters downtown in a subway located near Amtrak’s King Street Station, currently undergoing a major renovation.

    New ideas such as these already have been tried successfully in other cities.  We’re not re-inventing the wheel on University Avenue, but have only to see how others have made it work.

    Bill Graham