Met Council seeking local funding to keep Central Corridor on schedule

Light rail car
A light rail car runs along the Hiawatha line in Minneapolis.
MPR file photo

The Metropolitan Council is asking local funding partners for help to keep the Central Corridor light rail project on schedule.

The agency building the Central Corridor light rail line acknowledged today the project's schedule is in jeopardy. The Metropolitan Council went to its local funding partners today asking for what amounts to a cash advance to keep the line on schedule for a 2014 opening.

The Metropolitan Council is asking the other local funding partners - the state of Minnesota and a batch of Twin Cities counties - to advance the Council $83 million of the $941 million price tag.

It is money the local partners have already committed to spending on Central Corridor. Half the cost is expected to come from the federal government.

Metropolitan Council chairman Peter Bell said the advance will pay for more preliminary construction on the 11-mile line between St. Paul and Minneapolis.

The advance is necessary, Bell said, because a guarantee of federal funding for the project has been pushed back to September at the earliest. Waiting for federal funding would cause a costly delay that would be solved, Bell said, by the cash advance.

"Then we will not experience the inflationary costs of a delay, this is exactly what we did with Northstar and we're just proposing the same thing here," Bell said.

One of the local funding partners, a consortium of metropolitan counties, is on board with the advance. It's not clear if the other partners, including the state of Minnesota, will go along.

The federal government is holding off guaranteeing its share of the project cost until there's a settlement to two lawsuits.

The University of Minnesota's lawsuit is over the vibration and electric interference from the light rail line as it rolls through the east bank campus in Minneapolis near sensitive lab equipment. The Met Council and the U characterize those talks as making substantial progress but still dealing with knotty issues.

One of knottiest according to the Met Council is the U's demand that it be paid damages in the future if the solutions for the vibration and electric interference don't measure up.

The other lawsuit, filed yesterday by several St. Paul community groups, also seeks money for losses that businesses will take because of construction and for homeowners whose taxes will rise.

Bell puts the prospects that Central Corridor will be built at less than 75 percent, but more than 50 percent.

"Our ability to maintain our budget and our schedule is clearly in jeopardy, both by the actions of the University of Minnesota and the litigation they've initiated the recent litigation by a number of community groups," he said.

Some other community groups see a ray of sunshine slicing through the murkiness surrounding Central Corridor. The long sought construction of 3 additional stations, one each at Victoria, Hamline and Western in St. Paul, looks much more likely.

One reason is a pledge by the federal government and the city of St. Paul to help fund a portion of the $15 million additional cost.

Probably the strongest reason is an unequivocal statement from the new head of the Federal Transit Administration, Peter Rogoff, that the stations should be built.

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