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Central Corridor funding survives

Published (3/25/2011)
By Lee Ann Schutz
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The Central Corridor light rail project had a near miss in the House Capital Investment Committee March 22. However, the impact of a successful amendment from Rep. Steve Drazkowski (R-Mazeppa) still leaves the project in jeopardy.

The bill was passed as amended and sent to the House Ways and Means Committee. It has no Senate companion.

A provision to defund a $42.8 million appropriation approved in the 2008 capital investment law for the line between downtown Minneapolis and downtown St. Paul was contained in HF1232, sponsored by Committee Chairman Larry Howes (R-Walker). But after several testifiers spoke of the signed contracts and the amount of money spent on the project so far, it raised the question about the state’s liability regarding the contractual agreements.

While Howes’ motion to delete the provision to defund the Central Corridor project was approved, Drazkowski’s amendment could halt the project anyway.

It calls for a quick answer from the Federal Transit Administration as to whether it will fund the project as planned. If a new April 1 deadline is not met, all construction on the project must be halted. His amendment also calls for a supplemental environmental impact statement to address the loss of business revenues as an adverse impact to the rail line’s construction. But it prohibits the Metropolitan Council from funding the study and puts that financial responsibility onto the federal government.

Ramsey County Commissioner Jim McDonough said the new April 1 deadline is too soon. “The comment period doesn’t end until April 6. This is a blatant attempt to stop the project,” he said. “The reality is this went forward with (former Gov. Tim) Pawlenty’s support. It moved forward under the Bush administration, and with business and labor support. The reality is the state’s share of the project is 10 percent.”

Howes also amended the bill to remove a provision that would have pulled $11 million from the Como Zoo; $10.4 million in funds from regional trail development; and

$1 million for the Rock Island bridge park and trail. These projects were funded in the 2010 law.

Rep. Bev Scalze (DFL-Little Canada) called on the chairman to consider the impact of defunding projects that were recently approved.

“We are taking away their trust in state government. … It is a black mark, and there are a lot of people who will be hurt. This just breaks my heart,” she said.

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