With the threat of state legislative interference looming in the background, the University of Minnesota and the Metropolitan Council late Thursday reached at least a partial accord on the $957 million Central Corridor light rail line planned for downtown St. Paul.
The university, along with Minnesota Public Radio, has consistently challenged design and engineering plans for the LRT line; the university has claimed the route could disrupt sensitive scientific equipment on campus. The university has even filed a lawsuit to prevent such a possibility. Pro-rail critics of the university have accused the institution of posturing, possibly for financial leverage, and have challenged the university to provide data backing its concerns.
Met Council spokesman Steve Dornfeld issued the following statement: “The Metropolitan Council and University of Minnesota have reached an interim agreement that will allow construction to proceed on the Central Corridor LRT project while fully protecting the university's sensitiveresearch facilities. The agreement included University approval of temporary easements needed for road improvements in the campus area that was scheduled for this summer.”
Such an agreement would allow construction to proceed on the route and remove much uncertainty, which many have claimed could jeopardize federal support for the project.
The 11-mile Central Corridor route (map above) will link St. Paul’s Union Depot with the existing Hiawatha Line LRT operation in neighboring Minneapolis. The line includes 18 stations, with 17 in St. Paul and one new stop in Minneapolis, and serve five existing Hiawatha Line stations. The Hiawatha Line opened in 2004.
Barring continuing delays, the new line is scheduled to begin revenue operation in 2014. While some light construction activity is ongoing, Met Council says heavy construction on the Central Corridor is scheduled to commence in August near the state Capitol.
The agreement doesn’t supersede the lawsuit the university has filed against Met Council over disputes on the project. University officials say the lawsuit will be dropped once all pending negotiations are finalized. Negotiations are set to resume April 26.