Central Corridor: The major controversies

Old Rondo Avenue
A sign for "Old Rondo Ave.: 1865-1966" stands atop other street signs overlooking Interstate 94, left, and a frontage road in St. Paul, Minn., where homes, stores and other businesses once stood before the area was cleared in the 1950s to make way for the new interstate highway connecting Minneapolis and St. Paul.
Jim Mone/ASSOCIATED PRESS

A number controversies have emerged over the last several years of planning for the Central Corridor. Here are some of the more notable ones.

THE UNIVERSITY OF MINNESOTA

1. The tunnel: Early plans called for routing the tracks beneath congested Washington Ave. through a $155 million underground tunnel. The price tag went up to the $250 million range, or about a fourth of the project cost, after the tunnel plans were modified to accommodate a new Gophers stadium.

The Met Council finally abandoned the tunnel out of cost considerations. As currently planned, the transit line will run at street level along Washington Ave., and most vehicle traffic will be diverted to nearby streets.

2. The northern alignment: Since 2001, the university said it preferred a tunnel, but if it couldn't get that, a separate route -- farther north and through Dinkytown -- would suffice. However, the U's own study showed not enough riders would take the northern loop in order for the project to comply with federal funding criteria.

In 2008, the U agreed to support the street-level alignment along Washington Ave. after the Met Council gave assurances it would address concerns about traffic and the U's sensitive research labs.

3. Research labs: The university says noise vibrations and electromagnetic vibrations from the trains would harm its revenue-generating research equipment. In fall 2009, the U sued over the project. The Met Council has committed to building mitigations into the line. In April 2010, after nearly two years of negotiation, the two sides agreed on a "framework" on how to share the risks.

Status: The two parties are now in court-ordered mediation, and both sides say they are on their way to crafting a massive mitigation plan for the campus. But the university has yet to withdraw its lawsuit.

RONDO NEIGHBORHOOD

Once the hub of St. Paul's African-American community, the Rondo neighborhood was ripped in two in the 1950s to make way for the new Interstate 94. Now some residents feel they will again be displaced -- this time through gentrification.

A group of African-American residents, businesses, churches and housing groups has sued the Met Council and the Federal Transit Administration, saying the project failed to adequately analyze how the transit line would affect minorities and poor people along the corridor. The group has also filed one of two civil rights complaints over the line.

Status: The lawsuit is pending, and a complaint filed with the Federal Transit Administration's civil-rights office has been put on hold while the lawsuit is being resolved.

ASIAN BUSINESS OWNERS

After helping revive a troubled stretch of University Ave. starting in the 1980s, Asian-American shopkeepers say they're worried they won't survive construction of the light-rail line. They're also concerned that rising property taxes and rents resulting from the project would force them out of the neighborhood. A coalition called the Concerned Asian Business Owners filed a civil rights complaint with the Federal Transit Administration.

Status: The federal civil rights complaint has been put on hold while the Rondo lawsuit is being resolved. The city of St. Paul is working on a plan to help businesses.

EXTRA STOPS

The Stops for Us Coalition and local officials demanded three extra stops along University Ave. in St. Paul to better serve the people who live and work in the neighborhoods. But local project planners, mindful of the need to keep costs down and in line with a rigid federal funding formula, had spaced the stations about a mile apart.

In January 2010, the Federal Transit Administration announced it would ease up on the funding benchmark for cost-effectiveness. The agency also agreed to match local dollars to pay for the extra stops.

Status: The line will include stops at Hamline Ave., Victoria St., and Western Ave.

MINNESOTA PUBLIC RADIO

MPR says the Met Council is contractually obligated to pay for a steel spring "floating slab track" to help isolate vibrations from the trains, which would run past its recording and broadcast studios in downtown St. Paul. MPR sued the Met Council in February 2010, asking the court to compel the Met Council to use that preferred design.

The Met Council says it will pay for a less expensive floating slab, using rubber pads, and is under no obligation to design the track according to MPR's demands.

Status: The lawsuit is still in play.

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