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Business Fears Won’t Delay Light Rail Plan

ST. PAUL, Minn. (CN) - Government agencies are not dragging their feet in explaining how they will address business interruptions caused by a $957 million Minnesota light-rail project, a federal judge ruled.

The Central Corridor Light Rail Transit (CCLRT) system, an 11-mile light-rail line projected to be finished in 2014, will connect downtown St. Paul with downtown Minneapolis, according to the Ramsey County Regional Rail website and court papers.

But the St. Paul branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People question how the project will affect the community.

Teaming up with the Community Stabilization Project and local residents and businesses, the group filed suit against the U.S. Department of Transportation, the Metropolitan Council and the Federal Transit Administration in January 2011.

They claim that the project will gentrify the "ethnically diverse" Central Corridor and the "historic African-American community" of Rondo. In addition to causing business interruptions, the project will increase commercial and residential property taxes and rental rates, according to the complaint.

Soon after the complaint was filed, U.S. District Judge Donovan Frank agreed that environmental impact statement violated the National Environmental Policy Act in failing to adequately "address the loss of business revenues as an adverse impact of the construction."

Rather than enjoining construction, however, Frank ordered the agencies to supplement the final environmental impact statement (FEIS).

A year later, Frank said the FEIS had not improved on this point and ordered the agencies to keep working on it.

Noting that the agencies expect to publish a draft supplemental FEIS for comment in the coming weeks, with an eye toward final publication in May 2013, Frank rejected claims Tuesday that the process has been unjustifiably delayed.

"While the process has undoubtedly been lengthy, there has been no showing of any unjustifiable or intentional delay on the part of the defendants," Frank wrote.

Halting construction at this point may do more harm than good, according to the ruling.

"Defendants point out that by December 31, 2012, the civil construction for the CCLRT will be substantially complete, and that remaining limited construction activity will likely result in limited closures of corridor driving lanes, but that closures of sidewalks and business driveways will be very limited or non-existent," Frank wrote. "It is likely that halting the CCLRT Project now will actually exacerbate potential short-term business losses by extending the timeline of construction activities."

In a parting warning to the agencies, Frank noted that he "considers defendants representations regarding its intended timeline to have been made in good faith and expects defendants to adhere closely to it."

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