Funding challenges at all levels of government have meant the Central Corridor Light Rail Project is being built under a tight budget. Nowhere were those cost constraints more apparent than in the gaps in service left along University Avenue in St. Paul’s Rondo and Frogtown neighborhoods.
A map of the route showed three mile-long stretches where stations had been proposed but were left unfunded in a construction budget that fell $15 million short of building them.
Today, those stations — at Hamline, Victoria and Western Avenues — are back on the map.
For years, community leaders and elected officials have pushed for these three stations, and their construction remained a number-one priority for any new dollars in the construction budget. Their addition was key to ensuring that the residents and businesses in the mostly low-income neighborhoods at the east end of the line had equal access to the Central Corridor LRT and the economic development benefits it promises.
A January 13th announcement by U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood loosened the rules restricting the amount of local money that could be used as a match for federal dollars. This decision set off a new, intense round of cooperative work by local partners in the neighborhoods, government and philanthropic communities.
The new financing plan to build all three new stations was hammered together in less than two weeks after the announcement, thanks to the previous groundwork and collaboration among the parties. It was announced January 25th by Minnesota Congressman Jim Oberstar, who championed the change in federal transportation policy, and Secretary LaHood, who initiated it.
The plan includes $7.8 million in local contributions from the City of Saint Paul ($5.2 million), the County Transportation Improvement Board ($1.56 million), Ramsey County ($520,000), and the Central Corridor Funders Collaborative ($520,000). This total is eligible to be matched by a corresponding amount of new federal funding to provide the $15.6 million needed to complete the three stations.
The Funders Collaborative was happy to respond to this cooperatively developed plan and provide the final piece of the local funding match. Our contribution is the smallest in the financing plan, yet it represents a sizeable investment for the Funders Collaborative Catalyst Fund — and is significant as an innovative response to filling a critical gap in public funding.
“We hope this tremendous, cooperative action – and our small contribution to it – will move the Central Corridor LRT quickly through final design to full funding and construction,” said Lee Sheehy, Program Director for Region and Communities at the McKnight Foundation, a member of the Funders Collaborative.
“This investment represents exactly the kind of role that we set out to fulfill with this collaborative. No single member foundation could have mustered the flexibility, capital and speed required to react to this important opportunity,” stated Polly Talen, Program Director for the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and co-chair of the Funders Collaborative.
“Jointly, our members created the institutional capacity to accomplish this outcome by focusing on a vital issue in our community and then learning, working and investing together. Playing this role on an issue like this – with strong community support, multiple partners and such clear equity outcomes – is a perfect fit for the Collaborative and our goal of promoting vibrant, transit-oriented places.”
The investment in the three stations will clearly expand opportunities for economic development in areas with easier access to the light rail. This action also embodies the values of the Funders Collaborative, helping to ensure that redevelopment in the Corridor is responsible to community desires, is directed by all parties working together, and treats all people – especially those with low incomes – equally.
The Central Corridor Funders Collaborative is an innovative response by regional and national funders to opportunities created by development around the Corridor. We help neighborhoods, business groups and public institutions in the community create and implement corridor-wide strategies aimed at ensuring the adjoining neighborhoods broadly share in the benefits of public and private investment.
The Catalyst Fund is designed to provide flexible and timely capital to help achieve the Funders Collaborative’s four goals: Access to Affordable Housing, Building a Strong Local Economy, supporting Effective Coordination and Collaboration, and Promoting Vibrant, Transit-Oriented Places.