Newspaper article

Streetcar Desire: Transit Options for Riverview Corridor May Not Include Light Rail — but They Do Include Rail

Newspaper article

Streetcar Desire: Transit Options for Riverview Corridor May Not Include Light Rail — but They Do Include Rail

Article excerpt

When it comes to choosing a way to get people from downtown St. Paul to the Minneapolis-St.Paul International Airport: rail is dead, long live rail.

On Thursday, a policy advisory committee of elected and appointed officials charged with picking a route and a mode of transit for what is dubbed the Riverview Corridor eliminated light rail transit from the list of options, largely due to the opposition of those who feel the construction of another LRT line would be too disruptive, especially in the West 7th Street area of St. Paul.

But to say rail is no longer an option for the 11-mile corridor is a misstatement. Four of the six options for modes and alignments that will be studied by the Ramsey County Regional Rail Authority and its consultants between now and December would use what are called modern streetcars: shorter electrified trains that would run amid existing vehicle traffic for much of the route and — critically — not eliminate as much parking in business areas along the way.

While modern streetcars are not currently used anywhere in the Twin Cities, the mode is used in other parts of the country with some success — and some criticism. It is expensive compared to all other transit modes except light rail, though it’s still considered “attractive” to potential riders who don’t use buses. Because routes often run amid other street traffic, it’s also slower than light rail.

Still, planners say a trip from downtown St. Paul to the Mall of America, which would be at the end of the line, would be nearly as fast as light rail: about 44 minutes if a shorter route over the Highway 5 bridge is used, and 55 minutes if a route through the Ford site and over the Ford Bridge is used.

Either way, a Riverview streetcar would be designed to share existing tracks with the Blue Line LRT once it reaches Minneapolis, and would complete the trip to the airport and the mall on existing tracks.

Different alignments

The four streetcar alignments differ on the route through St. Paul and their connection to the Blue Line. One would travel mostly on W. 7th, cross the Mississippi River on the Hwy. 5 bridge, and then, most likely, tunnel beneath Fort Snelling to a Blue Line connection at the Fort Snelling Station. A variation of that route would use a Canadian Pacific Railway right of way for part of the route.

The two other possible routes for the streetcars would run through the Ford site, over the Ford Parkway Bridge and hook up with the Blue Line at either the 43rd Street or 46th Street stations.

The costs for the Riverview Cooridor options range from $1 billion to $1.2 billion, though rail authority staff warned that those are 2015 dollar estimates. By the time any line is under construction, the project would likely be a half billion dollars more expensive. And while crossing at Hwy. 5 is a shorter route, any savings from that are negated by the costs of a tunnel under Ft. Snelling — something likely to be insisted on by the federal and state entities that manage it. Hoped for funding sources for the project include: half from the federal government and half from Ramsey and Hennepin counties, which would use a recently adopted quarter-cent sales tax increase to fund their portions.

Of the non-streetcar options, one alignment would use arterial bus rapid transit similar to the current A-Line, which runs from the Rosedale mall to the Blue Line’s 46th Street station at a cost of $75 million. According to the planners, that route would attract far-fewer riders than streetcars even though it would be the fastest way to the airport and MOA. The final option is a no-build alternative, which would have the area continue to rely on the No. 54 Metro Transit bus line.

Characteristics of alternatives carried forward

Key Characteristics#1

No-Build (Route 54) #2

Arterial BRT #4

Modern Streetcar: W. 7th #6

Modern Streetcar: W. …

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