Every member of the University of Minnesota community has seen the past year of construction for the Central Corridor light-rail line. Although businesses have seen hard times due to the closures, detours and inaccessibility, upon completion they will have extraordinary access to markets of commuters traveling between St. Paul and Minneapolis.
However, barely past the half-way point in the $957 million project, the Metropolitan Council and the state government have already made substantial progress on the next major light-rail expansion — dubbed the Southwest Corridor, connecting downtown Minneapolis to the Southwest suburbs. The project made news this past week as $2 million was included in state economic development grants, approved by Gov. Mark Dayton, as part of $47.5 million in grants that included funds for a new St. Paul Saints stadium. The entire project is projected to cost $1.25 billion. Up to half of the funding would be available through the Federal Transit Authority’s matching programs. However, state and local governments will have to contribute the other half in order to receive the matching funds.
The FTA approved the project to enter preliminary engineering in 2011, which will take approximately two years. In this time, the Metropolitan Council and Hennepin County Regional Railroad Authority have begun working with communities to finalize the plans for the route and stations. Considerations include analysis of ridership and benefits to the community, along with environmental impact. Once preliminary engineering is complete, the FTA will have to approve the project to enter final design in order to receive federal funding.
So far in the planning, the route has been evaluated and compared with several other alternatives. The route approved by the Metropolitan Council would be an expansion of what they call the Green Line, which currently consists of the Central Corridor project. The route they selected of several possibilities would travel southwest from downtown, pass between Cedar Lake and Lake of the Isles and enter St. Louis Park, Minn., and travel to Eden Prairie, Minn.
Much of the traffic along the light rail comes from commuters, but with an extensive light-rail system, people are also able to use the system to travel to and from nighttime entertainment, events, restaurants and shops. It seems shortsighted to neglect the Uptown neighborhood from the light-rail route — the HCRRA’s report indicates that the route would duplicate existing service in the midtown area, the route could pose higher environmental risk and would require more complex construction and permit requirements.
These factors would increase the cost of a route passing through Uptown — according to the HCRRA’s estimates of approximately $500 million. With the selected route estimated to cost $1.2 billion, the alternative passing through Uptown would increase costs by about 40 percent. However, in the long term, connecting such an extensive area of the Twin Cities would greatly benefit the business districts in the area — as is expected along the Central Corridor and residents of the neighborhood by connecting them all the way to St. Paul via a quick light-rail ride.
Currently, all of the alternatives are still viable, having completed an environment impact assessment. Should residents of Uptown want to ensure light-rail service, perhaps they should look to join forces with the Uptown businesses to vocalize these concerns.