Judge: LRT Plans Proceed, Review Effect on Area Co’s

A judge's ruling states that plans for the Central Corridor light-rail line don't adequately address the resulting loss in revenue to area businesses, but it is in the public interest to move the project forward.

A recent legal decision will allow construction on the Central Corridor light-rail line to proceed-but it also calls for additional planning.

U.S. District Judge Donovan Frank issued a decision on Wednesday stating that the planning for the Central Corridor light-rail line is “deficient in its consideration of lost business revenue as an adverse impact of the construction”-but he won't stop the project from moving forward.

“At this stage, the court concludes that the interest of the general public to keep this important project moving forward outweighs the harm to plaintiffs,” Frank wrote.

A group of organizations, businesses, and residents-including the St. Paul branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP)-filed a lawsuit in January alleging that the U.S. Department of Transportation, the Federal Transit Administration, and the Metropolitan Council failed to properly analyze the effects of the $957 million project.

The lawsuit claimed that the 2,800-page final environmental impact statement for the project inadequately addressed the impact of the potential displacement of existing businesses and the gentrification of the area on the Rondo neighborhood-a historically African-American community that was divided in the 1950s and '60s during the construction of Interstate 94.

The judge acknowledged the “validity and magnitude” of the concerns about the effect on the Rondo community and low-income and minority populations, but said that the plan is “not deficient in its analysis.”

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, and then the planners “can make sure their mitigation measures are adequate.”

In an e-mailed statement, the Met Council said it is “encouraged” by the judge's decision. The group acknowledged that the remaining issue is its analysis of the project's impact on businesses. “We will continue to work closely with our project partners and community groups as we move forward toward the successful completion of this project,” the organization wrote.

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 line in Minneapolis, and the $957 million project is scheduled to be completed in 2014.