Central Corridor delayed to study noise concerns

University Ave in the future?
An artist's view of the University Ave. corridor with a light-rail line.
Courtesy of Urban Strategies Inc.

Central Corridor project manager Mark Fuhrmann said the telephone call from the Federal Transit Administration came late last week.

The message was, "hold off," he said.

The FTA officials told Fuhrmann the Central Corridor planners need to look more closely at noise and vibration along the line.

Mark Fuhrmann
Central Corridor project director Mark Fuhrmann with the FTA application seeking $450 million in federal dollars for the 11-mile rail connection between downtown St. Paul and Minneapolis.
MPR Photo/Dan Olson

Fuhrmann says the FTA wants more details on the project's Federal Environmental Impact Statement, or FEIS, that was due this week.

"They felt it would behoove the project and FTA to bolster the project, particularly in the section on noise and vibration," said Fuhrmann. "So they directed us not to submit that environmental document for their review beginning early this week, and to hold off on that."

Minnesota Public Radio has raised the newest set of noise and vibration concerns, because the Central Corridor light rail cars would run next to the organization's broadcast headquarters on Cedar St. in downtown St. Paul.

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MPR says its measurements show vibrations, and noise from the train and the horn and bell, will disrupt recording and broadcasting.

MPR spokesman Jeff Nelson says its measurements don't match findings from Met Council consultants.

The proposed Central Corridor Alignment route
This map shows the proposed Central Corridor Alignment route through downtown St. Paul and the proximity it would run to several audio/visual recording studios, performance spaces, sanctuaries and historical sites.
MPR Graphic/Steve Mullis

"We're meeting at the Central Corridor project office next week to discuss that, and to make sure that we can agree on the same set of data and the conclusions," said Nelson.

Met Council Chairman Peter Bell says an agreement to work with MPR on a mitigation plan came at an early morning meeting today, arranged by St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman.

"We would develop that plan, and welcome MPR's consultants to really look at how it was developed," said Bell, "to have input on it if, in fact, they have constructive ideas on how the mitigation plan can be enhanced, those of course will be welcomed. But the important point for me was to shorten the timeframe that would allow us to start construction, heavy construction, in late summer 2010."

MPR's Nelson says if the company can't agree with the Met Council on a mitigation plan, MPR will continue to press for changing the route -- which is the organization's first preference.

Central Corridor planners are also trying to meet similar and more longstanding noise and vibration concerns from the University of Minnesota.

Months ago, the U of M lost its bid for a different alignment that would take Central Corridor trains away from Washington Ave., and from laboratories where the vibration and noise might affect research.

The U earlier lost a bid for a tunnel that would have taken the train below Washington Ave. on its East Bank campus. The tunnel was deemed too expensive to include.

U of M Vice President Kathleen O'Brien said the university's current plan is to enlist faculty to review mitigation plans, and weigh how it might affect their research.

"Cancer, heart disease, Alzheimers, biofuels, solar energy, nanotechnology -- all of the major issues facing our society -- renewable energy, health care, the prevention of illness and the safety of our community. This is the university's job, the research mission of the university, and we're trying to insure that we can continue doing our job for the state," said O'Brien.

The proposed $915 million Central Corridor light rail line would run 11 miles from downtown St. Paul to downtown Minneapolis, primarily along University Ave.

This newest incarnation of a decades-old plan for a rail transit link between the two cities has faced repeated challenges.

At the federal level the challenges are money, a set of rigid federal qualifying rules and intense competition from more than a dozen other transit projects around the country -- some of them farther along in their planning process.

At the state and local levels, the challenges include the disruption caused along a major urban corridor caused by building the state's largest public works project.

The goal of construction by 2010 and trains running by 2014 appears ambitious.

What is unknown is how a change of administration in Washington, D.C., the promised stimulus package and the clout of Minnesota's congressional delegation could affect the project.