U regents still insist on light-rail detour

  • Article by: JEFF SHELMAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: April 11, 2008 - 11:29 PM

Met Council President Peter Bell said he was disappointed that the university would decide "before all the facts are in."

The University of Minnesota still wants to detour the proposed Central Corridor light rail line to the edge of campus, despite the Metropolitan Council's decision to send the train through one of its busiest streets.

On Friday, the university's Board of Regents reaffirmed a 2001 resolution that the "northern alignment" of the line is preferred over the current plans of running tracks at street level down Washington Avenue. That plan, the university says, would create traffic chaos and could cost the institution millions of dollars annually.

The university's preferred route would take the train north from Washington Avenue just east of the West Bank station. The train would cross the Mississippi River on a rebuilt Dinkytown bicycle bridge and through Dinkytown in the existing trench. The train would return to University Avenue just east of the under-construction TCF Bank Stadium.

"Without a tunnel under Washington Avenue, it doesn't work," Regent John Frobenius said. "It would simply create a dagger through the heart of the University of Minnesota."

University Vice President Kathleen O'Brien said the current plan could cause a 10 percent drop in business at the school's Academic Health Center -- an area of campus that would be more difficult to reach if cars are eliminated from Washington Avenue. That could cost the school millions annually.

In addition, university President Robert Bruininks said the school believes it would have to move several science research labs near Washington Avenue because of train vibrations. "That will run into the millions and millions of dollars," he said. "It will exceed $10 million to move them."

The school also claims that the "northern alignment" would save between $16 million and $18 million in construction costs and would shave more than a minute off of the ride time because it would encounter fewer stoplights.

Metropolitan Council chairman Peter Bell was disappointed in the regents' actions and said the findings on cost are premature.

"You have a research institution that I think is jumping to a judgment before all the facts are in," said Bell, who is also a former U regent.

The entire Central Corridor plan faces funding challenges after Gov. Tim Pawlenty vetoed $70 million in state money that was slated to help pay for the project.

Bell, however, said he believes there is a way for that funding to be restored before the end of the legislative session. The inability to find common ground with the university, won't help that happen, he said.

Jeff Shelman • 612-673-7478

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