Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Central Corridor…No tunnel, No Train

Ah the Central Corridor, the Twin Cities second light rail line that may never be. This line has been the topic of many discussions in the world of transit advocacy and in the local papers including the Minnesota Daily

The Columnist for the Minnesota Daily, Angela Gray, must have attended the Transit Summit at St. Thomas before writing the article. I was impressed on how she interviewed some important figures of the Central Corridor Partnership and business owners located in the corridor. She even interviewed students around campus to see if they would support a light rail line going through campus. However, the student that she interviewed stated that a tunnel would not be crucial and that "students will adapt". I highly disagree.

A few weeks before the article in the daily was published, there was an article in the Star Tribune on Planning Officials, The University of Minnesota, and the controversial tunnel. A local blogger has commented on this issue as well. He has the story linked in his post. I suggest you read it.

Some crucial information left out in both of these articles has been the cost. They skimmed the surface of the cost of the project in Grays article of the project being around $800 Million, when really the project is closer to $900 Million. The project total cost in 2003 dollars was about $840 Million. The Metropolitan Council hopes that it can cut the cost by eliminating the tunnel underneath Washington Avenue. The figure is an estimated $140 Million. I assume most of the cost of tunneling would be the engineering improvements necessary to turn the Washington Avenue Bridge into a triple-decked bridge with Pedestrian on top, Traffic in the middle, and light rail on the third rung.

Without the tunnel, the light rail will be forced to run on the surface, eliminating two lanes of traffic on each side of Washington Avenue simply because it is not wide enough to support central median operation, parking, sidewalks, and two lanes of traffic. This is Washington Avenue, not University that is 120 ft. in width.

I wish planners had more foresight than 25 years. They should be planning for one hundred years. Then again, with the way cities change and re-arrange themselves it is difficult to see what changes in technology and the built environment will occur over the years.

Last week, while enjoying a conversation with a friend of mine at Royal, I got into a discussion with someone sitting behind me about how backwards the current University alignment is. He tried to sell to me that the line should be located 2 blocks North of University Avenue. He also tried to sell to me that we needed more vertical economic development, basically transit villages with very large multi-block “sky-cities”.

I had two major disagreements with his proposal. The first was the location. 2 blocks north of University Avenue is where the Red Rock/Northstar connection is planning on running on the freight ROW. The second is the cost. A proposal that includes such large planned development like a transit village would put the total cost probably into the Billions. Although I agree that development like a “sky-city” would be awesome for the Twin Cities, right now with all the space we have available there is no pressure for land conservation and thus development like this is seen as overkill. For those interested in these types of development I suggest viewing Discovery Channel’s series Extreme Engineering.

Last issue to write about is the controversy of the intersection of University and Snelling Avenues. I agree with the author of twin city sidewalks, that the light rail may need to be elevated over this intersection like the Lake St. station which would be cool or be put underground which is pretty unlikely. I think an elevated station would be the best bet. As for the owner of the Midway Bookstore, I hope his store is where the first plank goes for the station. Just think, had he supported the rail he probably would have gotten a much better facility and benefited from a more walk-able University Avenue.

Back to my original topic, this Tunnel is crucial. If the tunnel is not in place, it will add more congestion and suck up tax dollars just as Republicans say it will. Let’s not let this happen. I encourage all members of the University of Minnesota to encourage planners and the powers that be, that the Central Corridor has to have a tunnel or needs to be put on the shelf until other rail projects such as Northstar are completed.

Whew, a pretty lengthy post…ENJOY!!!!


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