by T.W. Budig
ECM Capitol reporter
Federal Transit Administration Administrator Peter Rogoff, Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton and other officials signed a symbolic agreement Tuesday, April 26 marking the Obama administration’s commitment to paying half — some $478 million — of the construction costs for the $1 billion Central Corridor light rail transit project.
“Today 30 years of uncertainty and doubt came to an end,” said Rogoff, speaking at a ceremony in St. Paul.
“The Obama administration is thrilled to be your partner in this project,” he said.
The 11-mile Central Corridor light rail project when completed in 2014 will link with the Hiawatha light rail and Northstar commuter rail lines in downtown Minneapolis.
It’s proposed to run down Washington and University avenues to the Union Depot Station in downtown St. Paul.
Plans call for trains operating about every eight minutes during peak travel times, with a travel time of 36 minutes between the two downtowns.
Rogoff depicted transit as one way for the public to deal with the high price of gasoline.
He spoke of the president’s determination, despite hard economic times, to continue to make strategic investments to improve the American quality of life.
Dayton claimed little credit for the project — one debated for decades — noting his recent arrival in the Governor’s Office.
“This is a terrific celebration,” said Dayton.
The governor invited Rogoff to visit Minnesota often, especially when bearing big checks. “In fact, come every day if you can,” Dayton quipped.
Still, speaking later in the day, Dayton indicated the Central Corridor is not key to increasing ridership on the Northstar commuter rail line. Instead, he spoke of extending the line. “To stop the line in Big Lake was very short-sighted,” said Dayton.
“Not having a station or two in St. Cloud where people could walk to, or get to, or get dropped off by their spouse, is really, really short-sighted,” he said.
Ridership on Northstar in recent times has been below projections.
Many other officials spoke at the Central Corridor light rail ceremony, including Democratic U.S. Sen. Al Franken.
Like Dayton, Franken indicated credit for the project should rightly go to others. “It’s true that I’ve been a strong supporter of this. But I’m a little in the governor’s camp here — I really don’t deserve much credit,” said Franken. “I didn’t fight it,” Franken quipped to applause.
Officials expressed gratitude to the Minnesota business community for backing the Central Corridor light rail project.