U clings to solitary stand on rail route
That despite own study saying Dinkytown Detour fails federal funding test
Today could be an angry day for the Central Corridor..
Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty is happy. State lawmakers are happy. They reached a deal last weekend for the state to borrow $70 million as part of a funding plan to build the $909 million light-rail transit project linking St. Paul and Minneapolis, making local officials happy.
But the University of Minnesota is not part of that happy pack.
Instead, the U continues to fight for a route that no one else wants. It would take a track around the northern edge of its campus through the Dinkytown neighborhood of Minneapolis.
Everyone else wants the train to run through campus along Washington Avenue.
On Tuesday, the Pioneer Press obtained a copy of a study the U sponsored to bolster its argument for the so-called Dinkytown Detour. The 1 1/2-inch-thick report, titled "Central Corridor Light Rail Transit: Northern Alignment Alternative Feasibility Study" by the SRF Consulting Group, took months to complete and concluded the route won't pass an important test. Without passing that test, it would be hard to get $450 million from Washington to help build the train.
At noon today, all the important local people — St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman, Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak, commissioners from Ramsey and Hennepin counties, U Vice President Kathleen O'Brien and Metropolitan Council Chairman Peter Bell — will sit down to talk about it.
Everyone except O'Brien is mad at the U. The others might accuse the U of "sabotaging" the train because the school doesn't like the route everyone else likes.
Some of the people in the room will want to fight. They will want to force O'Brien to vote, thinking perhaps that will help her to picture a newspaper headline someday that might read: "U kills Central Corridor."
That would be bad for the U because school officials always say they like the train.
Or, everyone could smile, and not vote on anything.
Bell said Tuesday he doesn't know what will happen. But he said both the Washington Avenue and Dinkytown routes will be featured in side-by-side comparisons at the meeting.
O'Brien did not return phone calls seeking comment Tuesday.
Here are some of the complicated details they will talk — and perhaps argue — about today:
The U-sponsored study is a linchpin of its effort to reroute the train off Washington Avenue because of concerns about traffic and safety. The report concluded the Dinkytown plan would cost less but attract several thousand fewer riders than the route along Washington Avenue.
Because of the fewer riders, the U's route would fail a complex federal formula known as the Cost Effectiveness Index, or CEI. The current CEI sought by the Federal Transit Administration is 23.99 or below.
The Washington Avenue route, which would cost $909 million, is 23.80. The U's Dinkytown route, which would cost between $889 million and $894 million, would have a CEI of between 28.25 and 28.44, according to the U's study, which notes that 23.99 "is recommended" by the FTA to be considered for federal funding.
The FTA is needed to pay half the construction cost.
In the report, the university says it could lower the CEI to maybe 24.58 — still too high — if it could get permission from the FTA to change its computer models.
Others point out it took two years to get that kind of permission the last time anyone tried.
The U says time isn't as big a deal as others say. But everyone else says delays will make them mad because rising construction and materials costs will add up to $40 million a year for every year the project is late. The goal is to start construction in 2010 and have trains running by 2014
Nice work, Bob.