The fast track it wasn't. But after two long years, the Metropolitan Council and the University of Minnesota have finally agreed on a plan to cushion the impact of the Central Corridor light-rail line on sensitive U research labs in buildings along Washington Avenue.
Floating slabs will be placed under 1,450 feet of track where the line might disrupt sensitive instruments. And to protect against electromagnetic interference, a dual-split power supply will run below 3,150 feet of tracks.
The deal, if approved by the full council and the U's Board of Regents, will end the U's lawsuit and grant the temporary and permanent easements needed for construction of the 11-mile line connecting downtown Minneapolis and St. Paul. The federal government will pay half of the $957 million cost.
Both sides had a point in the dispute. The U is a locomotive in its own right, powering economic development in the region, partly due to the research corridor it needed to protect. The Met Council was sympathetic to the U's concerns, but had many of its own, especially completing the project on time and on budget.
Balancing those competing needs required a mediator, and a good one appeared in retired U.S. Magistrate Judge Jonathan Lebedoff. Both Met Council Chairman Peter Bell and U Vice President for University Services Kathleen O'Brien praised Lebedoff's efforts. Both were also quick to credit their staffs; Hennepin County Commissioner Peter McLaughlin; Ramsey County Commissioner Jim McDonough, and in particular David Hough, deputy administrator for Hennepin County.
"It takes a village," said O'Brien.
As for Stadium Village, the campus neighborhood surrounding Washington Avenue, it will be the biggest beneficiary of the Central Corridor project.
"Washington Avenue has really been a dividing element ... and the transit/pedestrian mall will really unite the campus," said O'Brien. "It will be more functional, safer, and add to the aesthetic beauty of the campus."
"The faculty, staff and students at the U will have a world-class facility," said Bell. "What we're doing will be unique, and a model. People will come here and ask 'how did that happen on an engineering, financial and political basis?'"
The answer? Hard work.
Bell had better be prepared to roll up his sleeves again. Two more lawsuits remain to be settled.
One involves a consortium of community groups displeased over the corridor's gentrification effects on portions of University Avenue in St. Paul. Bell said the federal government is taking the lead in addressing this dispute. He cautions that "if people need to be protected from all aspects of gentrification for projects to go forward, the cost to the public would be huge, and there would be far fewer projects."
He's right. Community groups have long protested the lack of investment in the inner city. Well, the Central Corridor is the biggest project in state history, and it goes right through the urban core. It should have a positive economic impact; complaints would be more justified if it didn't.
The other dispute is with Minnesota Public Radio. Like the U, MPR has legitimate worries -- over the impact of construction and trains on its St. Paul studios. MPR previously signed a deal with the Met Council, but has filed a lawsuit over the interpretation of the mitigation efforts. A hearing is set for Nov. 5. Both sides seem reluctant to seek mediation, but neither has ruled it out.
"We, in all of our actions in this process, want to see Central Corridor move forward," said Nick Kereakos, MPR's managing director for broadcast production and operations. "If mediation is a way that's possible, hey, let's talk about it."
Yes, let's. While it's too late to fast-track anything with the Central Corridor, we hope an agreement comes soon and keeps this vital transit project moving forward.