In recent public statements, University of Minnesota officials have suggested that the Metropolitan Council has been indifferent to the university's concerns about the possible impact of the Central Corridor light rail transit (LRT) line on its research facilities.
That simply is not true. Over the last year, we've held countless meetings with university officials, employed special consultants and devoted thousands of staff hours to the issues raised by the university.
We have developed and committed to implementing a plan that will effectively mitigate the noise, vibration and electromagnetic impacts of LRT on sensitive university research equipment located along Washington Ave. in Minneapolis.
Rather than harm the university, we believe the $914 million Central Corridor project will bring enormous benefits. Our plan will remove more than 20,000 vehicles a day from Washington Ave. and create a transit/pedestrian mall that will be the envy of campuses across the nation.
It will unite the East Bank and West Bank campuses as never before. It will reduce the need for costly parking structures on campus. And it will provide faculty, staff and students with access to first-class transportation worth millions of dollars a year.
In our protracted discussions, university representatives initially insisted that the Met Council provide mitigation for vibration and electromagnetic impacts for both current and future lab equipment placed in buildings along Washington Ave. This would require us to cover costs into the indefinite future.
To keep this project on track, the Met Council must stay within budget and comply with federal cost-effectiveness requirements. Meeting the university's demands would make it very difficult to do either -- and it would limit the resources available to meet other legitimate needs along the 11-mile corridor.
The Met Council already has committed more than $27 million to mitigate LRT impacts at the university, including $11 million for the Washington Ave. transit/pedestrian mall and $7.3 million to address vibration and electromagnetic issues.
Our staff and consultants believe these measures will allow the U's current research equipment to function as well in the future as it does today.
In fact, in many locations the project will significantly improve research conditions along Washington Ave. -- by removing thousands of heavy trucks and reducing the number of buses that now rumble along that street every day.
University Vice President Tim Mulcahy has suggested the University of Washington as a model for us to follow. The LRT project at the University of Washington is different in many important ways. That project requires the use of a tunnel-boring machine that will drill LRT tunnels underneath sensitive University of Washington labs, with trains eventually operating in the tubes.
Construction will last for several years in an area of campus not previously affected by vibration sources like those currently existing on Washington Ave.
Recently, Mulcahy released a report of a faculty committee that examined the impact of LRT on university research facilities. Strangely, the committee completed its analysis without even talking to the experts in our Central Corridor project office or to our consultants, relying only on incomplete written information from their work.
The Central Corridor LRT line is a vital element in the Met Council's plan to develop a network of bus and rail transitways to serve our region. It offers an exciting opportunity to build upon the success of the Hiawatha line, providing improved access to employment, economic and educational opportunities along the corridor and beyond.
We urge the university to join us in working to develop a cost-effective mitigation strategy that will allow this vital transit improvement project to stay on track as we work against very real time and budget contraints.
Peter Bell is chair of the Metropolitan Council, the lead agency for the Central Corridor LRT Project.
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