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Moving forward on the Central Corridor

A land-grant university has a unique responsibility to take the long view. The preservation of the past and the realization of the future are inherent in our mission — and as a university, we have an obligation, greater even than that of our elected officials, to thoroughly analyze complex problems and their several solutions before drawing conclusions.

As a result, our approach to problems is deliberate and nuanced. But throughout our history, the University of Minnesota has delivered time and again on the state's behalf — and we will do so again on the Central Corridor light-rail transit project.

The university saw great potential in a northern alignment for the Central Corridor line, including tremendous economic opportunity for communities destined to grow, expansion of new housing starts, a less disruptive path through campus, less traffic disruption for surrounding neighborhoods, and enhanced transportation options to key areas of the university for the 80,000 people a day who live, work, study and visit here. We felt strongly enough about the long-term potential of this route that, once it became clear that the long-preferred option, a tunnel beneath Washington Avenue, was not financially feasible, we agreed to fund and conduct a preliminary study of the northern option.

Our intention has never been to derail or delay this project, but to ensure that all feasible alternatives were thoroughly explored before a costly long-term decision was made. While it is disappointing that we have thus far been unable to share our vision in a compelling way, our goal remains to help build a working light-rail transit system that serves the needs of Minneapolis and St. Paul, Hennepin and Ramsey counties, the university, and the millions of people who will visit our communities for decades to come.

Several specific concerns remain
To that end, I want to reiterate the university's strong support for the Central Corridor project, not only as an adjacent property owner but also as one of the biggest customers and advocates of public transportation in the Twin Cities metropolitan area. We initiated a strong mitigation plan for Washington Avenue. We are participating in fruitful negotiations with the Metropolitan Council and our partners in Minneapolis, St. Paul, Hennepin County and Ramsey County regarding the details of this plan, and I believe we have made considerable progress toward an acceptable solution. However, we cannot gloss over the significant challenges that face a street-level train through campus. We are working with these stakeholders to address specific concerns, including:

• Re-routing 25,000 cars and 1,200 buses per day from Washington Avenue.

• The impact of those cars and buses on surrounding neighborhoods, the East River Parkway and the Mississippi National River and Recreation Area.

• Access to our hospital and clinics for half a million faculty, students, staff and especially patients.

• The effect of train vibrations and other disruption on highly sensitive measurements and mission-critical research conducted in nearby laboratories.

• The impact of closing Washington Avenue on the only other cross-campus traffic artery, University Avenue-Fourth Street.

• The environmental, cultural, and historical impacts of the route.

 


These concerns are not simply aesthetic, and their impact is not limited to our campus. We maintain that the new Central Corridor line should improve our current transit system and must do no harm to the university's ability to deliver basic services and accomplish its mission. We believe our partners agree, and we continue to work collaboratively to complete a viable plan and budget to address these issues.

Advocacy takes many forms. Sometimes it's an enthusiastic yes. Sometimes it is quietly consultative. And sometimes it involves asking hard questions and fighting to be understood. But if undertaken in good faith and with a common goal in mind, the outcome with debate and dissent is always better than without.

Robert H. Bruininks is the president of the University of Minnesota. 


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Comments (3)

What are some goals that rail could achieve?

Rail could provide faster, more economic, more convenient transportation than alternative means. Mass transit could reduce the need for cars and reduce pollution and greenhouse gases. But, unless it is more convenient and fast to ride the rail than it is to ride buses and cars, then NOTHING is being achieved, as the rail will not significantly increase the use of mass transportation. This has been typically the case for rail projects in the United States. In Portland, mass transit usage was higher in the 1970’s than it is today with rail, per a widely available Cato study.

Unlike in other places of the world, where economic growth is assumed, and visionary transportation systems are being built, in the United States architects design based on the past. For supporting evidence, see New York Times Magazine, June 9, 2008, page 72.

At about $10 billion per year, the FTA grossly underfunds mass transit, as is becoming increasing obvious, with gas prices at $4 per gallon. However, the current design of the Central Corridor through the University and elsewhere is not an investment that will reap dividends in the future. It is merely an expense that makes us poorer, as we drive from Minneapolis to Saint Paul, since that will continue to be the quickest, most economic way to travel.

David,

Have you noticed oil prices and global oil demand lately? The days of cheap motoring are over and driving will hardly be the most economically way to travel. Driving isn't even the most economical mode of transport today.

Thanks to President Bruininks for stating that the University is a supporter of the Washington Avenue at-grade alignment. This is a very important step in the process.

I disagree, however, with the University's repeated contention that "25,000 cars per day" will be diverted (presumably to adjacent neighborhood streets) from Washington Avenue SE. Many of the folks in the cars on Washington Avenue SE today will arrive to the U or pass through it via the Central Corridor LRT. In addition to these eliminated auto trips, many will choose to walk or ride a bicycle due to the cost of driving.

With global oil supplies stagnant and global oil consumption steadily rising I think it's safe to say that many of those 25,000 cars will simply be left idle at home where they'll be a benefit to their owners' financial and mental health.

Having moved back to the Twin Cities after 19 years in Oregon, ten years of which were in the transit mecca of Portland, I find that people here are mostly clueless about LRT and other forms of public transit.

My time in Portland made me a fan of transit, and I try to use it as much as possible here, but frankly, our current system is a pathetic hodgepodge of legacy lines and new lines tacked on without much thought of how they work as a system.

The fact is, once people actually ride LRT they like it. Portland, which has a directly elected Metro Council, started with one LRT line, which opened in 1986. It took 11 years to open the next one, in 1997, but the next one after that, an extension to the airport, opened in 2001, and the one after that in 2004. Now they're building two more lines, as well as extending the downtown streetcar system.

These ambitious projects were not imposed from above. In fact, Portland area voters have consistently elected transit-friendly Metro Councilors by a ratio of 2 to 1. Perhaps part of the secret is that most of the rail lines serve their corners of suburbia as well as the central city.

I was able to take an 8:30 Saturday morning computer class at one of the suburban campuses of Portland Community College (located in the equivalent of Minnetonka) by taking LRT from a station two blocks away, getting off at the suburban rail station, and boarding a bus that met the train and carried people the rest of the way to campus.

Now THAT's a transit system!