A federal judge on Thursday criticized planning for the Central Corridor light-rail line, saying it failed to consider all the interests of nearby St. Paul businesses, but he rejected a request from them and homeowners to halt the project.
U.S. District Judge Donovan Frank concluded that the Metropolitan Council and other transit planners were "deficient in ... consideration of lost business revenue as an adverse impact of the construction."
But Frank said the planners, residents and businesses should work together to resolve problems.
"At this stage, the Court concludes that the interest of the general public to keep this important project moving forward outweighs the harm to plaintiffs," he wrote.
Metropolitan Council Chairwoman Susan Haigh issued a statement saying she was "encouraged by the judge's decision ... the judge declined to delay the project."
A coalition of black businesses, nonprofit groups and residents sued Central Corridor light-rail line planners a year ago, claiming they had inadequately analyzed potential negative effects of the nearly $1 billion project. The suit also said measures to deal with those effects were insufficiently considered.
It named the U.S. Department of Transportation and the Federal Transit Administration as defendants, along with the Met Council.
The Central Corridor line linking Minneapolis and St. Paul will run for 11 miles in St. Paul, much of it down W. University Avenue. Construction began last year; the line is expected to be finished in 2014.
According to the suit, the potential negative consequences include business interruption during construction, higher rents and taxes, and displacement of existing residents and businesses.
The suit also made a case that planners were insensitive to the history of the nearby Rondo neighborhood. Hundreds of families were displaced in the 1950s and '60s when Interstate 94 was built, and more residents left during urban renewal projects in the '70s.
While the judge refused to stop the project, the plaintiffs said they are pleased that he validated some of their concerns, attorney Tom DeVincke said. "The court balanced all the appropriate factors and made an appropriate decision," he said, adding that his clients haven't decided whether to appeal.
Rondo organizer Veronica Burt said in a statement that the ruling was met with mixed reaction and seen as "another incomplete victory in a series of concerns" related to the Central Corridor.
Frank ordered light-rail planners for the Met Council to amend their environmental impact statement to provide a better picture of how construction could affect business revenues.
But the judge rejected a claim that the planners failed to weigh the cumulative impacts of the line and construction of I-94 on the Rondo neighborhood. He noted studies that concluded a light-rail line would be beneficial to Rondo residents.
"This does not diminish the valid concerns of those in the affected neighborhoods, and in particular the Rondo neighborhood that was devastated by the construction of I-94, regarding the future of their communities," the judge said. "The Court hopes and expects that the [planners] will continue to honor their commitment to resolving community concerns."
Pat Doyle • 651-222-1210