MINNEAPOLIS - It looked like a major hurdle had been cleared Friday when the University of Minnesota and the Metropolitan Council announced a tentative agreement to let construction start on the Central Corridor light-rail line.
The university's board of regents stopped short of signing the agreement Friday evening, saying lawyers needed more time to finalize the wording. But the board cleared the way for university President Robert Bruininks to grant easements, which would allow construction to start this summer along Washington Avenue on the school's campus.
For months, the university has blocked construction, saying concerns about how the light-rail line would affect nearby research laboratories had not been addressed adequately.
Steve Dornfeld, the Met Council's public affairs director, said the cost of the $957 million transit line, half of which is paid by the federal government, could increase by $30-$40 million if crews don't start making improvements to Washington this summer.
"We need to do some of this work if we're going to stay on schedule and complete construction by 2014," he said.
The plan is to turn Washington into a mall for pedestrians, light rail, buses and emergency vehicles only.
ornfeld said crews need to start making road improvements now to help divert traffic when Washington closes to cars and trucks next year.
The university has said vibrations and electromagnetic interference from trains could be harmful to labs along Washington. The tentative agreement essentially includes a promise from the Met Council to continue addressing those concerns as construction moves along.
Both sides will meet with a court-appointed mediator later this month.
"I guess that we take them at their word that they support the project and want to see it go forward," Dornfeld said.
University officials declined to comment because the agreement had not yet been signed.
The university isn't the only obstacle for the Met Council. A community group and Minnesota Public Radio both have filed lawsuits trying to block the Central Corridor's construction.
Met Council predicts, after the line is built, it will serve 42,000 riders a day by the year 2030.