Judge orders supplemental LRT environmental review

Central Corridor construction
Construction crews work on the Central Corridor project on University Avenue in St. Paul, Minn., on May 10, 2011.
MPR Photo/Nikki Tundel

A federal judge in St. Paul says light-rail planners failed to address how Central Corridor construction is affecting business in their official environmental review of the project, but he stopped short of halting the project.

In his ruling, Judge Donovan Frank said that the Metropolitan Council and the Federal Transit Administration need to supplement the environmental impact statement with a more detailed study on construction's effect on businesses.

Frank noted that he issued the order to the agencies a year ago, but the "defendants did not do so," he wrote.

"The Court continues to hope that all parties involved can approach future discussions or negotiations reasonably and with the goal of achieving a resolution that will address Plaintiffs' concerns while respecting the benefits of the CCLRT Project and the costs of further litigation in this matter," Frank wrote. "Such a resolution would serve the interests of all the parties and the community."

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The St. Paul chapter of the NAACP and other community groups sued the project two years ago. The judge wrote that once light-rail planners acknowledge construction's effect on businesses, the community can make sure proper mitigation is in place.

As a matter of official record, the Met Council maintains that construction will not have significant impact on business revenues, Frank wrote.

But in a Met Council statement, the agency said it is "committed to working with businesses along the corridor to ease impacts of construction."

Those efforts include a $1.2 million marketing plan draw more customers to the corridor and a new public-outreach coordinator for Walsh Construction, the general contractor building the eastern seven miles of the 11-mile line. An MPR News investigation this week revealed mishaps during the first year of construction, including haphazard planning and inattention to community concerns.

The Met Council said it was pleased that the judge did not stop construction, and is working with the FTA on how to respond to his decision. The agency said 2012 will be the busiest construction season.