Monday, April 19, 2010

University, Council reach interim agreement on LRT mitigation plan

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The Metropolitan Council and University of Minnesota have reached an interim agreement that will allow construction to proceed this summer on the Central Corridor light rail transit project while fully protecting the university's sensitive research facilities.

The agreement came during three days of mediation sessions conducted by retired U.S. Magistrate Judge Jonathan Lebedoff. The agreement provides a framework for resolving the remaining issues concerning the mitigation plan to protect university research labs from vibration and electromagnetic interference caused by LRT trains. It includes a commitment for achieving and maintaining standards for vibration and EMI, as well as a framework for addressing exceedances of those standards.

Additional issues remain to be resolved, and mediation is scheduled to resume on April 26.

As part of the interim agreement, the university administration will recommend to the Board of Regents that they approve temporary easements needed so the Met Council can proceed immediately with road improvements in the campus area. These improvements are needed to accommodate traffic that will be diverted next year when Washington Avenue is closed, and construction begins to transform Washington into a transitpedestrian mall for LRT and buses.

"The Metropolitan Council has always recognized the need to protect the university's research enterprise," said Council Chair Peter Bell. "We believe the mitigation plan we have agreed upon will provide that protection in a financially responsible manner, while allowing us to move forward with this vital transit improvement."

Bell also expressed his appreciation to the university for "working with us to keep the Central Corridor moving forward on time and within budget," as well as to the mediator.  "Judge Lebedoff immediately grasped the core issues, and really kept us focused on the major concerns. He couldn't have been more helpful."

The 11mile, $957-million LRT line will operate on University and Washington Avenues between downtown St. Paul and downtown Minneapolis, connecting with the Hiawatha line near the Metrodome. Construction is scheduled for completion in 2014.

The agreement also calls for the Council to implement a construction management plan to protect university research facilities during this summer's road work, and to join with the university in seeking $12.5-million in state bonding authority to assist with the relocation of certain U research labs from buildings along Washington Avenue.

Once the Regents approve the temporary easements, the Met Council will work with Graham Construction Services - the low bidder on the road improvement project - to get the work under way as closely as possible to the original May 3 start date. The contractor needs several weeks to secure bonding and insurance, mobilize equipment and order materials needed for the project.

At the university's request, the $3.6-million contract originally was timed so the work could be completed before the start of the fall semester and football season.

The Central Corridor LRT project is a key element in the Met Council's plan for a network of bus and rail transitways to help build transit ridership, slow the growth in traffic congestion and improve mobility. By 2014, when the Central Corridor project is completed, the region will have 115 miles of transitways.

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