Investigation of civil rights complaints over Central Corridor put on hold

The Federal Transit Administration has decided to delay its investigation into two civil rights complaints filed over the proposed Central Corridor light-rail line.

Last spring, the FTA began looking into concerns that the project would disproportionately harm low-income communities of color.

But this week, the FTA told local Asian and African-American groups that it would put the investigation on hold until a lawsuit filed by members of the Rondo neighborhood is resolved.

Gen Fujioka is an attorney assisting a group of Asian business owners worried about disruption to their businesses during construction. Fujioka says there is still time to resolve some of the concerns before the line is built.

"Courts can take long, and they also can act quickly. And I think everyone realizes that in order for relief to be effective, the court cases need to be resolved soon so the project can move forward," said Fujioka.

Major construction is scheduled to start this summer.

In a letter dated Monday, the FTA said it is standard practice to suspend investigation into administrative complaints while federal legislation involving the same issues and parties is pending.

As part of its inquiry into the complaints, the FTA conducted interviews from May to October 2009 and toured the route twice later in the fall.

Fujioka said the recent decision by the FTA was not a surprise. He said he was pleased that the agency, which expressed concerns about the civil rights implications of the project, recently loosened some of the funding criteria for transit projects. That rule change paved the way for three new stops to be included along University Ave.

He said the FTA's decision to delay, but not close, the investigation means the complaints are still in play.

An attorney representing the Preserve and Benefit Historic Rondo Committee did not return a call for comment. That group is calling for affordable housing, property tax abatement, and other measures to help offset economic displacement expected from the nearly $1 billion project.

The committee sued the Department of Transportation, the FTA, and the Metropolitan Council in federal court in January.

Met Council Chairman Peter Bell has defended the project, saying it would revive neighborhoods along the line and spur economic development.

Two other entities -- the University of Minnesota and Minnesota Public Radio -- have also sued over the project.