Twin Cities transportation plot thickens

Suddenly, or so it seems, the Southwest Corridor light rail project surges to the fore.

The Central Corridor light rail project overcomes seasonal construction delays.

Money for all things transportation hangs in the balance.

On that last point, the question is when or if Congress will authorize transportation spending under a continuing resolution? The deadline is the end of this month.

At stake are billions for roads, bridges, buses and rail, among other projects.

169 494 interchange.jpg(The current 169/I-494 interchange is set to be overhauled)

The continuing resolution is for spending at 2010 levels when the old transportation act expired.

Readers of The Cities who spend way too much time following transportation issues know that before he bit the electoral dust, former Minnesota Rep. James Oberstar and then-minority House transportation committee chair John Mica supported a new transportation bill.

It would have authorized spending $500 billion over the next six years – roughly double the expired bill.

There’s been precious little talk of that measure since then. Even though there’s a chorus building singing the praises of a big transportation infrastructure spending bill to employ people and address several decades of deferred maintenance.

OK. Moving along.

How about that Southwest Corridor project? The Federal Transit Administration permission for Southwest to enter preliminary engineering is, arguably, one of the three big steps in the life of these projects – the others being permission to enter final design and then a full funding federal grant agreement which would be about half the cost of the project. The total price tag has been hovering around $1.2 billion.

For Central Corridor, the blissful late summer weather is a bonus given the wet weather that delayed early season construction. Project officials shy away from uttering the “Ahead of Schedule” phrase but point out that CCLRT met its construction season goal back in mid July of having 20% of the project complete.

A cloud on the horizon for Central Corridor centers on the impact construction is having especially on smaller businesses. Some report their revenue has been sliced by more than half.

Yes, there’s $4 million in loans and grants available to help affected businesses. But only a small portion has been used. One reason, business owners say, is getting the money is onerous because of the detailed financial disclosure required.

(Photo courtesy of MnDOT)

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