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Despite veto, Central Corridor supporters press on

  • Article by: JIM FOTI
  • Star Tribune
  • April 9, 2008 - 11:48 PM

Trying to keep their frustrations in check, planners of the Central Corridor light-rail line said Wednesday that they're determined to forge ahead despite Gov. Tim Pawlenty's veto of state funding.

The line "has to move forward, it has to move forward this year," said St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman, a member of the Central Corridor Management Committee, as he introduced a resolution calling on the Legislature and governor "not to adjourn from the 2008 legislative session without an appropriation of at least $70 million for the Central Corridor."

"This has been a trying week," acknowledged Peter Bell, a Pawlenty appointee who is chairman of both the committee and the Metropolitan Council.

At the beginning of Wednesday's meeting, gravity had seemed to exert a special pull on the corners of Bell's mouth. Sitting in the same chair only six weeks earlier, he beamed as he presided over the approval of the major components of the 11-mile, $909 million light-rail line.

But his boss' veto pen had put a dent in the committee's collegiality. Bell was in agreement with the spirit of Coleman's resolution, but he and state Finance Commissioner Tom Hanson wanted the measure to acknowledge that the House and Senate bonding bill had exceeded state spending guidelines.

Coleman wasn't having it. "Every time you wish to bring in anything along those lines, then I will bring in a counterpoint," he said, noting that Pawlenty cut far more than necessary to meet the guidelines.

The resolution passed on a voice vote, with three Pawlenty appointees abstaining: Bell, Hanson and acting Transportation Commissioner Bob McFarlin.

"I think there's still a lot of partisanship going on," Coleman said after the meeting, calling the attempted amendments "not productive."

Bell, however, saw hope in the sense of determination expressed by Coleman, Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak and others.

"I've always said these projects have four or five near-death experiences, and we're only at two or three now," Bell said. "... I've been given strong assurances that there is a way to yes on this."

The state's total contribution to construct the line would be $140 million. The deadline to apply for federal funding, which would pay for half the project, is September. The trains would start running in 2014.

Despite the uncertainty over money, preliminary engineering for the line continues apace. "Nobody told us to go home," said Laura Baenen, a spokeswoman for the project.

Jim Foti • 612-673-4491

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