Central Corridor Request for Fed. Funds Hits Congress

Congress will review a grant agreement during the next two months to determine whether the federal government will cover roughly half of the $957 million light-rail project.

The Federal Transit Administration has forwarded a “full funding grant agreement” for the Central Corridor light-rail transit project to Congress-the next step toward securing funding for the project, the Metropolitan Council announced Thursday.

Congress has a two-month review period in which to determine whether to grant a Met Council request for half the roughly $1 billion needed for the project. A total of $145 million has already been spent on the project's design, property, and construction.

Met Council spokeswoman Laura Baenen said that Mark Fuhrmann, program director for the rail project, has stated that he is “99.9 percent confident” that the deal will be approved by Congress.

“Federal Transit Administration execution expected in April would allow the realization of 30 years of planning to unite St. Paul and Minneapolis by light rail,” Met Council Chair Susan Haigh said in a statement.

According to the Met Council's Web site, the current financial plan for the project involves the 50 percent federal input and 30 percent from the new Counties Transit Improvement Board-a collaboration of five Minnesota counties that was formed in 2008 by the State Legislature. The counties utilize sales tax to invest in transit projects and work with the Met Council to distribute grants.

Additional funding is expected from the state, Ramsey and Hennepin counties, the Met Council, the City of St. Paul, and the Central Corridor Funders Collaborative-a group of foundations and other funding sources.

If granted, the federal funding request will mark a significant step toward obtaining all of the money needed for the project-and last week, a legal hurdle was cleared when a judge ruled that the project can proceed despite objections by some local businesses and organizations.

U.S. District Judge Donovan Frank said that planning for the light-rail line is “deficient in its consideration of lost business revenue as an adverse impact of the construction,” but the public benefit outweighs the harm to those objecting to the project.

Frank ruled, however, that the project-which involves roughly 11 miles of light-rail line, 9.7 miles of which will connect the downtowns of Minneapolis and St. Paul-needs to further examine the impact of lost business revenue in its plan.

The Met Council announced Friday that it and the Federal Transit Administration will undertake a “supplemental environmental assessment” for the project as a result of the judge's ruling, and town hall meetings will be held on February 17 to gather input from local businesses.

The Central Corridor light-rail line, which will be built primarily along University and Washington Avenues, will include 18 new stations and will connect five major activity centers in the Twin Cities: downtown Minneapolis, the University of Minnesota, the Midway area, the state capitol complex, and downtown St. Paul. Plans indicate that it will share five existing stations with the Hiawatha light-rail line in Minneapolis, and the $957 million project is scheduled to be completed in 2014.

A report released earlier this month identified more than 500 individual improvement projects surrounding the stations along the transit line-and it suggests that public and private spending stemming from the Central Corridor will total an estimated $6.78 billion over the next two decades.