Groups pushing for 3 additional light-rail stops

St. Paul community groups pushing for three additional stops along a proposed light-rail transit line are fired up about new federal concerns over when those stations could be built.

Representatives with the Federal Transit Administration have told local officials involved with the Central Corridor project that construction of the extra stations may have to wait until after the project is up and running in 2014.

Activists say the apparent shift in the FTA's position is a major blow to their cause.

The fight for additional stops has been an ongoing symbol in the debate over the project. Project planners have placed some stations as far as a mile apart, prompting critics to charge that the project is neglecting the needs of low-income residents who live along the corridor and depend on transit.

But Nancy Homans, policy director for St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman, said she's confident that the stops can be built during the four-year construction period that could begin as early as next summer. She called the recent discussions with the FTA a minor glitch.

"We didn't hear anything from the FTA that would indicate that they don't want to let us build the stations, or that they don't think the stations are a good idea," Homans said. "But there were concerns on how the timing would be worked out."

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Homans said the issue is whether the extra stations need to be included in the project's lengthy environmental review, which was approved by the FTA in August. Local officials believe they can conduct additional reviews on the extra stations later in the process.

So far, the city of St. Paul has agreed to pay for one of three proposed extra stops along the line linking Minneapolis and St. Paul.

A group dubbed the Stops for Us Coalition has been fighting for the extra stops. Nieeta Presley, a coalition member, said the recent discussions with the FTA caused her to lose faith in the prospect that the extra stations will ever be built. Presley is also part of a group that filed a complaint with the civil-rights division of the FTA over the proposed transit service.

Meanwhile, Central Corridor planners continue to meet with officials with the University of Minnesota over how to resolve the U's concerns over vibration and electromagnetic interference with its research facilities. The U sued the Metropolitan Council in September. Local officials say they expect to reach a resolution with the U by mid-November.