Central Corridor rail line clicks a step closer to reality with plan

  • Article by: CHRIS HAVENS , Star Tribune
  • Updated: February 12, 2008 - 11:50 PM

East metro officials reached an agreement. Yet to be resolved: How to run line through U campus.

On time and on budget.

That was the mantra repeated Tuesday by east metro officials, who hailed their unified vision of how the Central Corridor light-rail line should look in St. Paul.

"We've always had agreement that the Central Corridor line was important, but we rarely had agreement about how this project was going to get done," St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman said. "Today, we have reached agreement."

Construction on the 11-mile line is scheduled for 2010, with trains rolling by 2014.

Ramsey County, long a champion of the line, has for now backed off its insistence that the terminus be at the rear concourse of the Union Depot in St. Paul. On Tuesday, the county Regional Rail Authority voted 7-0 to approve a resolution that says:

• The line should end on Fourth Street in front of the Union Depot, rather than extending to the depot's abandoned rear concourse, which county officials envision as a regional transportation hub for buses, trains and taxis.

• A maintenance building capable of handling two- and three-car trains will be built on county-owned land near the concourse south of Kellogg Boulevard.

• Three additional stops -- at Hamline, Victoria and Western avenues -- need to be designed and roughed in for future use as money becomes available.

• At least one of those stops needs to be built in the first phase of construction.

"It's a good compromise," said Ramsey County Commissioner Rafael Ortega.

At question now is how the line will go through the University of Minnesota Minneapolis campus amid concerns about adding trains to already busy Washington Avenue. One proposed tunnel alone would cost more than $200 million. U officials are studying their options.

At one point, Gov. Tim Pawlenty had threatened to withdraw his support if costs weren't cut and the parties involved didn't agree on how the line should be designed. A Pawlenty spokesman couldn't be reached for comment Tuesday.

The Met Council must make a decision on what stays and goes in the project by Feb. 27, a deadline set by chairman Peter Bell so that engineers can work out the details before filing an application for federal review in September.

The budget needs to be about $900 million; at one point, if all parties were to get what they wanted, the price tag would have passed $1.25 billion. The federal government sets aside $1.5 billion for all new U.S. rail projects.

Chris Havens • 651-298-1542

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