Tuesday, September 26, 2023
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Full Speed Ahead for Twin Cities’ Light-Rail Project

(CN) - Minnesota does not have to put the brakes on a $930 million light-rail project in its Central Corridor, a federal judge ruled. Minority residents, businesses and organizations had sought an injunction against the project, which they say could have a negative impact on the community.

Finding that the public agencies behind the project have fully weighed concerns over displacement of residents and businesses, U.S. District Judge Donovan Frank only ordered the Department of Transportation, the Federal Transit Administration and the state's metropolitan council to address local businesses' concerns of lost of revenues while the line is being built.

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.

"The Central Corridor is the location of numerous ethnically diverse neighborhoods, communities and business centers," according to a January complaint led by the St. Paul branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. The plaintiffs say that they are part of the Rondo community, which is a "historic African-American community" that was displaced during the construction of Interstate Highway 94 in the 1950s and under an "urban renewal" policy in the 1970s.

The NAACP chapter and the Community Stabilization Project, along with local residents and businesses from the Rondo community, claim the government agencies' final environmental impact statement violated the National Environmental Policy Act by failing to address the rail project's potential negative impact on their community.

The plaintiffs say that construction of the rail line will cause business interruptions, while ultimately increasing commercial and residential property taxes and rental rates.

Furthermore, it "will likely result in the gentrification of the Central Corridor and the displacement of the African-American community, low-income community and very-low income communities that predominately populate the Central Corridor today," according to the complaint.

The plaintiffs say their neighborhoods will incur "substantial environmental impacts in the form of noise, pollution, vibration, lost parking, and increased risk of accidents along the Central Corridor."

Noting that the agencies had failed to discuss potential problems associated with additional light-rail stations under the project, the plaintiffs demanded an injunction to stop construction of the rail line until their concerns are remedied.

In a Jan. 27 ruling, Judge Frank rejected much of the plaintiffs' argument but agreed that environmental impact statement failed to adequately "address the loss of business revenues as an adverse impact of the construction of the CCLRT."

Frank ordered the agencies supplement their "analysis of business interruption impacts," adding that construction in the plaintiffs' community is "not imminent" and that they have not proved that the agencies will be unable to address their concerns before starting construction in that area.

"For over 20 years, the Central Corridor has been identified as an area where mobility and capacity should be improved," Frank wrote.

"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," he added.

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