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Continued: Light rail: Central Corridor route is a go

  • Article by: JIM FOTI, ANTHONY LONETREE and JEFF SHELMAN , Star Tribune
  • Last update: May 29, 2008 - 9:50 AM

On the day that the route for the Twin Cities' next light rail line was officially set, the prospect of a train linking Minneapolis and St. Paul is already running through people's minds.

Transit users are anxious for a modern and reliable train line. Business owners along University Avenue in St. Paul and in Minneapolis' Stadium Village are wondering whether they can survive the loss of parking.

And the University of Minnesota holds out hope that the Metropolitan Council will revisit the so-called "northern alignment" that would move tracks from Washington Avenue to the northern edge of campus.

As expected, the line's planning committee voted 11-1 Wednesday to put trains on Washington Avenue through the East Bank campus, shut the street to cars and end consideration of a northerly route through Dinkytown. The university's representative on the panel, Kathleen O'Brien, cast the sole "no" vote.

The Metropolitan Council gave a unanimous blessing to the plan later in the afternoon.

"The resolution that we passed today does close the door on the northern alignment," said Peter Bell, who chairs both the planning committee and the Met Council. "I am not going to authorize any more staff, time or resources to exploring this."

The university doesn't plan to pursue legal action but won't concede defeat either.

"I do not think this is over. We can't let this be over," said Board of Regents chair Patricia Simmons. "... We're going to look at all the proposals on the table, not with a closed mind, but with an open mind to make sure the best one works."

Now that the route has been approved, potential riders said they are excited about the new mode of transportation. Some of it is civic pride for St. Paul residents. Some of it is the potential for a commute with less hassle.

"These are 'Twin Cities,'" said 52-year-old Wildcat Earl, a veteran bus rider from the St. Paul's East Side. "We should have a train, too."

Garrett Perry, 37, of Minneapolis, who takes three buses en route to a job in St. Paul's Summit-University neighborhood, said he's ridden the Hiawatha light rail line, and knows that a train "is going to be right on time."

Megan Kadrmas, 21, of St. Paul, who was eating outside Keys Cafe near University and Raymond Avenues, said that she's had to endure hourlong bus rides from the St. Anthony Park area to downtown St. Paul, and was hopeful light rail would put an end to that.

Business owners hope that the train doesn't come at their expense.

At Sharrett's Liquors on the northwest corner of University and Raymond, co-owner Jim Forsland said he's been told that there's a possibility that some on-street parking could be saved.

But with plans for two sets of tracks and two lanes of traffic in each direction, he said, he couldn't see how adjustments could be made. "And if they take away parking, we're out of business," he said.

Just off the university's Minneapolis campus is Mercil's Campus Auto Repair, a shop on the corner of Washington and SE. Walnut St. While the potential exists that cars will no longer roll in front of the former gas station, Darrin Mercil doesn't fear the light rail line.

"I think our customer base will find us, even if they have to make a few more turns," said Mercil, whose grandfather opened the business 72 years ago. "Most of our customers work at the U. They make an appointment, drop off their car, go to work and then pick up their car."

The university has opposed an at-grade alignment on Washington Avenue SE. because of concerns about traffic, patient access to the university's health services and the effect of trains on sensitive research equipment.

Bell and others have argued that pursuing the northern alignment would cause an expensive delay in securing federal funding for the project and that ridership would suffer.

He plans to continue working with the university on efforts to mitigate the effects of the conversion of several blocks of Washington into a transit and pedestrian mall.

"It's time to move," he said.

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