Central Corridor On the Way
Central Corridor’s light rail is on its way. The same ding, ding and rolling steel sounds filling the air around the Hiawatha Line through Minneapolis will be heard in St. Paul sometime in 2014. While preliminary street work has already started, major construction begins over the next few months.
Concerns still loom about businesses surviving and neighborhoods thriving through construction. Some neighborhoods along the line are hosting meetings for planners to provide construction previews, preparing residents, business leaders, and property owners for what’s expected.
Minnesota 2020, which sits on University Avenue, had been invited to St. Anthony Park Community Council’s recent meeting. There, the Metropolitan Council, Walsh Construction, and St. Paul and Ramsey County planners briefed neighbors, property owners and business owners.
Folks along University from Emerald Avenue to Transfer Road should expect a March construction start. Between then and July, traffic patterns will shift. Crews will be able to keep two-way traffic flowing though. By the end of November, on-street parking from Emerald to Hamline Avenue will be eliminated, as crews prepare to lay tracks and construct stations.
While business owners, property owners, and employees all have mixed feelings of excitement, worry, and realistic anticipation, no one who attended the meeting expressed anti-light rail sentiment. They’re focused now on surviving though construction.
However, not all concerns will be accommodated, such as better ways to modify parking or a municipal parking ramp’s construction. There has been $2 million allocated for a variety of small parking lots along the 11-mile line. That would make it impossible to build a central 600-car parking ramp, which has a $7 million price tag. One planner also pointed out that if they opened a process to tailor parking changes to businesses, it would occupy all of their time, which would be a waste without the resources to enforce the new parking.
The meeting also cleared up recent reports about the restricted flow of federal dollars. Congressional conservatives have put the 'New Starts' transit program on the chopping block, jeopardizing at least $394 million in federal funding.
Here’s the deal. The full funding grant agreement for Central Corridor has been sent to Congress, where it must survive a 60-day 'courtesy review'. The fear is that the agreement will not last that long, but there is a different view from the ground-level. At our Central Corridor meeting, St. Paul City Councilmember Russ Stark said there is no real fear on his part that the funding will not come.
The funding might be slowed, creating a cash flow problem for Ramsey and Hennepin Counties, which would have to provide more money up-front for the project. The conservatives’ short-sighted cutting agenda would present an obstacle for an infrastructure plan that has proven its merit many times, but wouldn’t come close to derailing it.
Back to resident and business concerns about construction. It is an unfortunate but necessary disruption. However, local community councils, such as St. Anthony Park’s, are stepping up to supplement Met Council and St. Paul’s pre-planning and construction mitigation efforts.
St. Paul Chamber of Commerce’s Discover Central Corridor campaign also supports local businesses along the light rail line. While the construction phase will be tough, there is an enormous upside: an efficient, low-cost transportation option and new infrastructure.
The St. Anthony Park segment’s July completion will bring brand new sidewalks, curbs, street surface, and landscaping. Not as easy to observe are the improved utilities being relocated and installed already.
Central Corridor’s light rail will be enormously beneficial when constructed. Important investments always require upfront costs and some sacrifices. As we enter the construction season, count on Minnesota 2020 to keep you informed from the ground-level.
Photo credit: Wayan Vota, creative commons