A truce, of sorts — and it may prove to be only temporary — has been called in the noise and vibration battle between Minnesota Public Radio and the Central Corridor Light Rail line.
The two sides have now agreed to work together over the next month to determine what effects that light rail trains running in front of MPR’s downtown St. Paul building will have on the radio network operations, and whether there are ways to mitigate any harmful effects.
An MPR threat last month to sue over the noise and vibration caused by the trains was seen as a potential threat to the long-planned rail connection between the downtowns of Minneapolis and St. Paul. Essentially, MPR had said: Move the rail line or we’re moving out of downtown St. Paul. Any delays, whether from additional testing or a protracted lawsuit, threatened federal funding for the project, officials said.
But an agreement reached at an early morning meeting today among Met Council Chair Peter Bell, St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman and MPR President Bill Kling says that light rail officials will work with MPR consultants as they come up with a noise and vibration mitigation plan.
For now, that’s a workable compromise for both sides, and according to insiders, eases both sides back from the ledge.
Still, MPR remains “skeptical that any mitigation plan can satisfactorily eliminate the noise and vibration impacts on our facilities,” according to the letter sent today by Bill Kling of MPR. “Please note, therefore, that our participation in this process does not commit us to accept its results. Our preference remains that you consider alternative alignments to the Cedar Street route [which passes in front of the MPR buildings].”
And Kling notes: “We reserve without limits our right to act in defense of our facilities and our mission.”
But the agreement does mean that, for now, planning for the light rail line can continue with a goal to begin construction by late summer 2010.
(That construction start date actually has been pushed back a bit in recent days by the Federal Transit Administration, which must review plans and give approval. Earlier plans had called for FTA approval to be granted in time for an early-summer 2010 construction start. But the agency now says there will be a 50-delay in their studies and approvals.)
Bell acknowledges MPR concerns
At a meeting today of the Central Corridor Management Committee, Met Council Chairman Peter Bell said some of the concerns expressed by MPR in recent weeks are “valid and legitimate” concerning the impact of passing trains on the radio network’s “sensitive recording equipment.”
But Bell said he was confident that the studies will show that any noise problems can be solved.
The problems in question are vibration and noise, officials said. And the mitigation they’re talking about involves quieting or eliminating horns and train bells as they pass by the studios. It also would reduce vibrations by putting the tracks on a floating slab of some kind, so that vibrations from the moving trains aren’t passed along through the ground and into the building.
The MPR buildings are actually located at one of the loudest intersections along the planned LRT route, which, for the most, part runs along University Avenue until it reaches the state Capitol, then turns south along Cedar Street and ends near the Union Depot.
Sirens from the nearby fire station, bells from nearby churches and general traffic sounds in the area already raise the noise levels in the building. To further check on the effect of the trains, researchers even put sensitive noise meters inside studios in the MPR buildings, then recorded train sounds from the Hiawatha line in Minneapolis, put speakers on a pickup truck and drove past the building playing the sound tapes.
The result: some noise, but not severe, in the studios, said Mark Fuhrmann, the project director.
Fuhrmann also said that the proposed mitigation plans will exceed the standards required by the FTA. The question, though, is whether MPR will accept that the proposed mitigation will be sufficient.
Bell was asked at the meeting whether the stimulus package proposed by President-elect Obama might help speed up funding of the light rail line.
The answer: No. Because of the FTA regulatory steps involved in the project, including the environmental impact statement that is the source of the debate with MPR, the project won’t be ready to break ground in the next three to six months, which seems to be the requirement for infrastructure projects that would be funded by the stimulus money.