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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