In mid-March, I stood in the heart of the Central Corridor, in the new Wilder Center, telling people invested in the region's future about why I was so optimistic. Despite the economic times and obstacles thrown at us, there is potential to put new investment in our region by bringing light rail to University Avenue; an investment that represents the economic development opportunity of a lifetime for the region.
The development of the Central Corridor represents the common ground that has been so elusive in Minnesota's recent political history. For frustrated commuters, light rail represents a tool to mitigate traffic and diversify our transportation options. For environmentalists, light rail represents a green alternative to more roads and cars. For community, labor, and business leaders, light rail in the Central Corridor represents a new catalyst for economic growth in the region.
Light rail will spur development in one of the largest commercial and residential corridors in the region. In all, the Central Corridor will spark more than $1 billion in investment. The residual effects of this economic progress will extend far beyond St. Paul, and even beyond the East Metro area.
The development is already occurring in anticipation of light rail -- Carleton Lofts, TCF Bank and the new Wilder Center at Lexington and University, Gordon Parks School, and the Rondo apartments at Dale and University. Market analysis of the impact of light rail in the Central Corridor shows even more growth from now until 2030:
• Up to 11,000 new rental units and 3,000 owner-occupied units.
• More than 5.5 million square feet of office space.
• More than 1.15 million square feet of retail space.
These numbers show the sheer potential to increase the commercial and residential tax base and spur both job growth and opportunities in the region. They do not include the construction jobs created by building and sustaining the line.
At the same time, business owners, struggling to secure their bottom line against rising fuel prices, remind us that they cannot afford the mounting costs of their delivery trucks idling on congested freeways. We know we can't build our way out of highway congestion. There isn't enough money or enough land. Nor do we want to devote land that could be used to grow our tax base to unnecessary highway expansion. The single most important contribution we can make to creating a fiscally sustainable transportation infrastructure is to build a regional transit system to take the pressure off our roadways.
The Central Corridor makes sense for Minnesota.
When the governor vetoed the money for Central Corridor, he vetoed the very thing that he promotes -- jobs, growth and opportunity. He broke faith with the stakeholders whom he spurred to come to agreement to get the project done and with Minnesotans whom he promised to help by creating a better economic environment to work and do business.
He rejected the good faith efforts of hundreds of people whose motives were none other than to serve this state.
This project needs to progress, and the governor and the Legislature need to be partners in that progress. Without at least the $70 million from the state the governor has committed to, we risk losing $450 million in federal matching funds. If the governor wants to set new ground rules -- new conditions for his support -- he should articulate them now, come back to the table, and help us determine how to get this project done.
Minnesotans cannot afford to let the gavel fall on this legislative session without fully funding the Central Corridor.
Chris Coleman is mayor of St. Paul.