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Met Council finds many Central Corridor construction problems, MPR says

Minnesota Public Radio looked into construction on the in-progress Central Corridor light rail line and found many problems on the $957 million project being built to connect the downtowns of Minneapolis and St. Paul.

Examining hundreds of documents, obtained through a data practices request, MPR's Laura Yuen found:

"[T]he future light-rail line in St. Paul suffered from communication lapses, haphazard planning, and inattention to community concerns — and that's according to the government agency that manages the project."

Work on the route is scheduled to restart in March, mostly on eastern University Avenue after a winter hiatus, and the Met Council wants its general contractor, Walsh Construction, which is based in Chicago, to do better work, the story says:

"We had a very frank discussion with them," said Mark Fuhrmann, who oversees new rail development for the regional agency. "We told them their performance was not to our level of expectations in 2011, and that things must change in 2012."

An example:

One source of frustration came after workers ripped up the sidewalks along the light-rail route. The contract requires Walsh to maintain a safe pedestrian path, but "Walsh has been inconsistent at best and non-existent at worst," wrote a transportation engineer working on the project.

The most striking example was a spot near the facility for the State Services for the Blind, where the sidewalk narrowed by more than two feet and then abruptly dropped off by a foot. There were also uncovered holes up to six feet deep near the pedestrian detours, records say.

And

Met Council issued multiple reports against Walsh for mishandling asbestos. Excavation crews uncovered transite pipes, which are often used to protect electrical wiring. Instead of stopping work immediately and reporting the presence of asbestos-containing materials, construction crews went ahead with removing them with no special oversight staff present, the documents say.

"Walsh has proven time and again that they are incapable of following environmental laws when they are in close proximity to existing asbestos," a project staff member wrote in July.

But officials say it isn't all Walsh's fault:

The Met Council recognizes that Walsh is not to blame for some of the challenges in St. Paul. Crews uncovered a surprising amount of asbestos and utilities underground, which resulted in some delays. The contractor also ran into design problems, in which the reality under the street differed from the specifications in the contract.

Letters from Walsh show the firm requesting change orders to the contract, and project officials say some were granted.

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Comments (1)

Walsh not maintaining a safe pedestrian environment is a real problem. Walsh not handling asbestos safely is a real problem. Walsh encountering unexpected conditions under the street is not.

Surprises are expected for projects like this. The utilities under the street were built over the course of 150 years or so and there are often no engineering drawings showing exactly where they run.

Walsh must clean up its act with respect to access and environmental concerns, but the number of change orders on the project is not really a useful measurement of how well the project is going. They are expected.