St. Paul might get a bit more than it bargained for when it comes to sprucing up University Avenue with the construction of the Central Corridor light-rail line.
The City Council on Wednesday signed off on a deal to let other agencies pay for trees along the avenue and take on responsibility for paying for median improvements, such as planters, greenery and irrigation.
The council already signed off on an $18.8 million budget for 1,000 trees, fancy lighting and other enhancements along the line because they weren't included in the $957 million project budget. Later it became apparent that median improvements wouldn't be included, either, and city officials faced having to spend more or go without landscaping in the medians.
It now turns out, however, that federal money and other sources totaling $3.7 million will be used for the trees and structural soil work. The city plans to use a like amount for the median improvements, leaving the $18.8 million city contribution unchanged.
The city is using a mix of funding sources, including assessments, special taxing districts, sales tax revenue and bonds.
Council Member Russ Stark said it's likely costs will come down because of low bids and cheaper construction materials. That means assessments -- unpopular with business owners along University -- could be lowered or sales tax revenue could be redirected to other projects.
The 11-mile line will connect the downtowns of Minneapolis and St. Paul. Provided the federal government pays for half of the project, trains are expected to roll in four years.
In other action, the council approved a plan to issue $24 million in bonds to begin construction this year on three projects. The projects are a new pool complex at Como Park, renovations to the Highland Aquatic Center and a new community megacenter, including a rec center and library, on the East Side.
The City Council will vote in July to give final approval to the fall bond sale. The city plans to take advantage of low-interest federal bonds to pay for the projects. City officials say now is a good time to finance the projects because interest rates and construction costs are low and about 870 new jobs could be created.
Chris Havens • 612-673-4148