The Shame of the Commons - Light Rail at the U?
"The fact is, we're not trying to site a nuclear reactor, we're siting a tremendous transportation amenity," Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak said.
"In these final weeks, everyone has to come to the table with the assumption that they will do everything humanly possible to get us together to get this done right now," he said.
Rep. Alice Hausman, DFL-St. Paul, who has hosted multiple meetings as a mediator to speed negotiations, criticized the University's actions.
"I don't know if the University understands what horrible shape they're in," she said. "Many members of the public have become disenchanted."
Aaron Isaacs, who worked as a planner for Metro Transit from 1973 to 2006, opposes the University's stance as well.
"It's like the U's attitude is exactly the opposite of what it ought to be," he said. "The U ought to embrace light rail."
Although those involved are optimistic about the line's completion, deadlines for federal funding are fast approaching.
Three lawsuits and a heap of unresolved issues don't help.
For instance, although the Obama administration has softened some of the rigid requirements for federal funding, critics say requirements are still too stringent to be workable.
"That's the catch-22 of taking federal money," Hausman said.
She is particularly concerned because the Met Council said the project's problems can't be fixed without delaying it.
In an attempt to keep the project on track, local funding is already being used to jumpstart preliminary construction in St. Paul, with the assumption that federal financing will reimburse the costs later on.
Unless the issues can be resolved quickly, however, there are no guarantees.
"If people approach these last few months of negotiation by selfishly trying to get everything they can for their own interests, we'll comfortably stay in the stone ages of transportation," Rybak said.
Additionally, budget deficits at both the state and federal levels add to the uncertainty surrounding the project's completion.
The state and federal elections this fall pose perhaps the biggest risk of the train plans going awry.
"There could be dramatic changes in the political landscape," said Met Council spokesman Steve Dornfeld. "There's no guarantee that this project will remain a priority for the governor or the Legislature or even for Congress."
And so it goes...