Crews will begin relocating utilities in downtown St. Paul today and continue through fall in anticipation of planned Central Corridor light-rail line construction next year.

Moving the utilities now will make laying the tracks a lot easier when the time comes, and officials say it will save money by avoiding inflationary costs.

Drivers and pedestrians will see some restrictions or closures during the work, mostly along 4th Street between Minnesota and Jackson streets.

Xcel Energy, which is covering its cost independently of the Central Corridor project, will be the first to rip up the streets and move its lines.

The other utilities -- water, sewer, District Energy and others -- are likely to be moved starting in late August, after some federal approvals are given. That work is expected to cost about $25 million, provided by:

• The County Transit Improvement Board ($15 million), the five-county board formed in 2008 that receives a portion of sales tax to fund transit projects.

• The state of Minnesota ($5 million).

• The Ramsey County Regional Rail Authority ($3.5 million).

• The Hennepin County Regional Rail Authority ($1.5 million).

The Federal Transit Administration hasn't approved the $915 million project or agreed to pay for half of it yet. That means Central Corridor planners need a so-called Letter of No Prejudice from the transit administration that allows them to begin work without a full-funding grant agreement. That letter is expected in late August.

The full-funding grant agreement is expected in the latter half of 2010. Once that happens, the cost of half of the utility work would be reimbursed.

If federal officials don't approve and fund the Central Corridor, state and local taxpayers are out the full $25 million, but officials don't expect that to happen.

Construction on the 11-mile line from downtown St. Paul to downtown Minneapolis is expected to begin next year, with service starting in 2014.

During utility relocation, folks should expect:

• Minnesota Street to be closed for four weeks south of 4th Street, although access to Capital City Parking Ramp will be open.

• 4th to be restricted to one lane westbound from about Minnesota through the Robert Street intersection.

• Traffic to be reduced to one lane each way on blocks of Robert on each side of 4th.

• 4th to be closed to all traffic between Minnesota and Jackson starting in late August.

Crews will work from 7 a.m to 5 p.m. weekdays, but will be allowed to work 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. seven days a week if needed.

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Chris Havens • 612-673-4148