ST. PAUL (Jan. 25, 2010) – U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood and Federal Transit Administrator Peter Rogoff were joined by Congressman James Oberstar (MN-8) and several other officials, came to University Avenue Monday to talk up more support about Central Corridor Light Rail.
LaHood said that the Central Corridor LRT project is an example he will use around the country, to show how communities put competing interests aside to work for a common good.
“The key to it all is you stuck together on this and were not divided,” said LaHood, adding that they worked well with the delegation in Washington and were patient and wanted to do what was right for the people they serve.
“We know there are a lot of other things to take into consideration, like livable communities,” he added.
Oberstar, who chairs the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, came with LaHood to reassure a skeptical residential and small business community that the federal government will pay half the $15.6 million cost of the three additional stations on University Avenue at Hamline, Victoria and Western avenues.
The stops had been cut to keep within a required $941 million Central Corridor LRT project, to qualify for federal funding. Through the efforts of State Rep. Cy Thao (DFL-65A) and others, the Metro Council has agreed to place subsurface engineering for the stops at some time in the future after the initial project was completed in 2014.
The three stations are now added to the initial project after LaHood announced that federal rules would change to allow the commitment of additional funds.
“I have long indicated my commitment to add one or more infill stations to the project as soon as contingency or other funds became available,” said Peter Bell, chair of the Metropolitan Council in a press release.
Oberstar said the project respects community input when comparing it to the way things were done in the past. He said Rondo is one example where that type of planning failed, and also talked about the I35 freeway project with planning that put it right through working class neighborhoods of west Duluth, but was stopped cold for decades when it approached the affluent neighborhoods of the east side.
“We can’t do that anymore,” he said. And we’re not going to do that because we have leadership that says invest in America and invest in communities and respect their needs.”
He said the stimulus funding helps create the capacity to “reclaim the past and invest in the future”, by returning to streetcars, subway systems, high speed and light rail as options that had disappeared for years. He said that every light rail system in the country has exceeded rider goals ahead of schedule.
According to the Metro Council, the matching local funds will come from the City of St. Paul, the Counties Transit Improvement Board, Ramsey County and the Central Corridor Funders Collaborative, a coalition of local foundations.
The 11-mile Central Corridor LRT line will run along University and Washington Avenues between downtown St. Paul and downtown Minneapolis, connecting with the Hiawatha line near the Metrodome. It now will have a total of 18 stations, plus five shared with Hiawatha.
Rogoff said that the CEI would not longer be the barrier to good transit decisions.
Ramsey County Commissioner Jim McDonough, who is Chair of the Ramsey County Regional Rail Authority, said this helps put past harm in the community in perspective and that we can now see the opportunities moving forward on LRT after 30 years of talk.
He said there will be a lot of difficulty in the community with a project like this, and that there would most certainly be more problems. However, he said problems could be solved when trust exists between community and elected and appointed officials.
Saint Paul Mayor Chris Coleman said he is that a community that knows what it means to be the victim of transportation decision made for them can now be the beneficiary of a project with the additional stops for people that depend on public transportation. He credited an administration that embraced common sense principles and long range planning for an infrastructure improvement that is the size and scale of the corridor project.
“A Billion dollar investment should not move through a community but to the community,” he added.
U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar and Congressman Keith Ellison were present to talk about the LRT in the context of the bigger plan of high speed rail and a new system of effectively dealing with transportation alternatives to fight congestion, oil prices and the environmental impact.
Others present included Saint Paul City Council Member Melvin Carter III, Ramsey County Commissioner Toni Carter, State Rep. Alice Hausman (DFL-66B) and Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak.