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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 transit
pedestrian 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
11
mile, $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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