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The current timeline for planning the Central Corridor light-rail line is "overly aggressive and potentially unrealistic," federal officials said this week, sparking some pointed words among local planners of the project.
The University of Minnesota's preference for a northern alignment through campus and a memo that the U sent to the Federal Transit Administration in March are jeopardizing the project's application for federal funding, according to Council Chairman Peter Bell and others involved in planning the line.
"My request of the U is that they just be very clear on what it is they want," Bell said Thursday. "If they want the northern alignment and are willing to delay or perhaps lose the project, they should be honest about that."
In the memo, the U raised concerns about the line's Washington Avenue routing and argued that the law requires consideration of the northern alignment. The university is funding a study of that alignment, but Bell says changing the route would delay the project by at least a year and increase the cost, and he called on the U to retract the memo.
"I think we behaved in the team spirit," Ramsey County Commissioner Rafael Ortega said Thursday, referring to concessions that east metro officials made over the winter. "The University of Minnesota just destroyed it."
Kathleen O'Brien, vice president of university services, said that the FTA's concerns -- listed in an e-mail sent Monday to the project office -- went beyond the issues raised by the U. "The e-mail stated very clearly that there were numerous changes in the alignment that required a full and comprehensive analysis, and any one of them could have an impact on the project schedule," she said.
Bell said those other changes could be handled in time for the Central Corridor's application to be submitted to the FTA in September.
Noting that the university learned fairly late in the process that a tunnel along Washington had been eliminated, O'Brien said the U "is committed to getting the Central Corridor advanced." She and Bell are to meet this afternoon.