Washington Avenue, normally busy with buses and cars, was quiet Monday. Tuesday, too. Two students ambled down the street's striped center.

Five blocks of Washington that dissect the University of Minnesota's East Bank closed at midnight Sunday for construction on the Central Corridor light-rail line.

Cars will never again drive along that stretch.

Instead, once completed, the area from Pleasant to Oak Streets will become a transit and pedestrian mall. Light-rail, buses and people only.

A light-rail stop there "is expected to be one of the busiest," a video by the Central Corridor office says, "with nearly 6,700 average weekday boardings by 2030."

For now, city and campus buses will detour, often through Dinkytown. Ubiquitous orange signs will tell cars where to turn. The clinics will advise patients on how they might approach.

Light-rail service is set to begin in 2014.

"It's going to be tough to get here," said Tim Busse, director of communications for University Services. "It's going to be tough for a few years."

Businesses along the stretch worry that construction will make summers even sleepier.

"Everyone is open for business," Chris Ferguson, owner of the Dairy Queen on Washington Avenue, reminded the Minnesota Daily, the U's student newspaper.

The university has had a complicated relationship with the light rail. Officials have long argued the line's construction and operation will damage sensitive research facilities nearby. In September, the U dropped a lawsuit against the Metropolitan Council.

With an agreement in hand and construction started, the U's tone is more optimistic.

"We keep telling people that it's like the Crosstown project," the reconstruction of the Interstate 35W and Hwy. 62 interchange, Busse said. "For four years, it was tough, but ultimately, it was a huge gain.

"This will create a unique transportation option for the whole university."

Jenna Ross • 612-673-7168