Most of us are hoping for a few more weeks of mild weather, but nobody is relying more on the cooperation of Mother Nature than Mark Fuhrmann.
Fuhrmann is overseeing the largest public works project in Minnesota history – construction of the $957 million Central Corridor light-rail transit (LRT) line on University and Washington Avenues between downtown Minneapolis and downtown St. Paul.
By the end of this month, Fuhrmann hopes crews can finish paving the western three miles of University Avenue in St. Paul between Hamline Avenue and Emerald Street, and reopen it to four lanes of traffic.
And he hopes to complete work on Fourth Street in downtown St. Paul and reopen the street in its final configuration – single lane two-way traffic east of Wacouta Street and single lane one-way traffic westbound west of Wacouta.
If all goes as well, Fuhrmann says, “The streets and sidewalks will be returned to driveable, walkable and plowable condition with full lighting as the contractor finishes its work for the season.”
$331 million spent so far
Through Sept. 30, the Metropolitan Council had spent about $331 million on engineering, design and construction of the 11-mile, 18-station rail line.
Most of that money has come from the project’s local funding partners – the state of Minnesota, Ramsey and Hennepin counties, and the Counties Transit Improvement Board (through its quarter-cent sales tax in five metro counties).
Last April, the Federal Transit Administration committed to funding half of the project’s cost, [PDF] but typically there is a lag of several years before the funds are fully appropriated. Thus far, the feds have provided $83 million of their $478 million share.
One positive result of the stagnant economy was that the major construction and procurement contracts for the project came in $34 million under budget.
With the help of these savings and contingency funds, the Met Council was able to order an additional 16 light rail vehicles, increasing the total to 47 cars for the line. This will permit the operation of three-car trains during peak periods, rather than two-car trains as originally envisioned.
For those who live, work or venture near the corridor, the construction progress is unmistakable:
• Embedded track is in place over most of a six-block stretch of Fourth Street between Broadway and Minnesota Streets in downtown St. Paul.
• Curved track installation began in late October on 12th Street between Robert and Cedar Streets near the state Capitol.
• A mile of track is in place on the western end of University Avenue in St. Paul.
• Structural steel is up at six stations – Union Depot, Capitol East, Snelling Avenue, Fairview Avenue, Raymond Avenue and Westgate.
• Foundation work or platforms are in the ground at the Fourth and Cedar Street, East Bank and West Bank stations.
• Westbound Washington Avenue was rebuilt on the West Bank.
• A train bridge was built over Interstate 35W that will connect the Central Corridor tracks with the Hiawatha LRT line near the Metrodome.
“The progress we have made in this first heavy construction season is right on task and right on schedule,” Fuhrmann says. “We hope at the end of this construction season we will be approaching 40 percent complete on the overall project.”
Next year will be another year of heavy civil construction as work resumes to rebuild the streets and sidewalks, and install the track and stations within the remainder of the corridor. In 2013, the focus will shift to the “less invasive” work of installing the catenary polls and wiring that will power the trains.
“We hope that by the end of 2013 or early 2014, Metro Transit will have test trains out on the track,” Fuhrmann says. “We would expect our testing would take about six months before we commence revenue operations in later 2014.”
While much remains to be done, Fuhrmann and members of his staff sense excitement and anticipation beginning to build among business owners and residents along the corridor. “There were two significant upticks during the summer,” he says.
“First, when people started to see stations coming out of the ground at Westgate, Raymond, Fairview and Snelling, they recognized that ‘Oh, that’s how the station is going to look.’
“And second, when rail was starting to be placed along University Avenue and downtown on Fourth Street, they said, ‘Oh, that’s where the train is going to go.’
“Instead of looking at our engineering drawings on a piece of paper,” Fuhrmann says, “they can actually see how this rail line is going to come to life.”