Light-rail cut prompts cry of why

  • Article by: CHRIS HAVENS , Star Tribune
  • Updated: April 7, 2008 - 9:30 PM

Officials see veto of Central Corridor funds as a negotiating move, not the last word.

A collective "Why?" went up over the east metro area Monday after Gov. Tim Pawlenty vetoed $70 million for the Central Corridor light-rail project.

Officials were puzzled -- and some were angry -- that the governor would nix a project that he had put in his own bonding proposal and that had a price he and the Legislature could agree on.

"I'm just absolutely outraged that the governor's playing politics with the Central Corridor," said St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman. "I can't figure it out."

But after the initial shock and head-scratching, reality set in: It's politics.

There's still a month left in the session, there's still room to talk and there's still a lot of commitment to get the train rolling.

"It's what you call negotiations," said Ramsey County Commissioner Tony Bennett.

"I guess I wasn't even expecting it," said Russ Stark, a St. Paul City Council member who represents an area that the 11-mile, downtown-to-downtown line will go through. "The mixed messages are really unfortunate."

Metropolitan Council Chairman Peter Bell said he would've liked to have seen the $70 million survive the cuts. "However, it should come as no surprise that the governor had to line-item veto a number of projects in the bonding bill due to its size," he said. "Nevertheless, the Central Corridor project has not been derailed."

He said there's plenty of time and flexibility to figure out a solution. The governor left that door open as well.

"We want to pull this project into the maintenance shed for further inspection to see how it fits into the plans that the Legislature has to balance the budget and exercise fiscal restraint," Pawlenty said.

Construction on the $909 million line is set to begin in 2010, with service starting in 2014. A year's delay could add $40 million to the cost because of inflation, planners say.

Tim Mayasich, director of the Ramsey County Regional Rail Authority, said now is a critical time for the project. He said federal officials want to see support of the whole region, and Monday's veto doesn't give that.

Also, a lot of compromise has gone into the project so far, officials said, much of it at Pawlenty's request.

Still, Mayasich said, things can be fixed. Some were already making plans Monday.

"We'll just go back at it tomorrow. This isn't over. There's still talking, there's still debating, there's still negotiating," said Terry Speiker, Ramsey County's director of intergovernmental relations. "We just need to keep making our case."

Staff writer Mark Brunswick contributed to this report. Chris Havens • 651-298-1542

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