Not so long ago, Crystal and Jordan Frank-Shannon decided to chuck their day jobs and invest their life savings in a small business called VanGo Auto Repair & Rental on St. Paul’s W. 7th Street.
There, they service imported autos and rent vintage Volkswagen camper vans for the “ultimate retro glamping adventure.” The tiny business fits smartly with the neighborhood’s quirky vibe — from the hipster Schmidt Brewery artist lofts to stalwart icons like Mancini’s Char House.
A new addition could be coming — a “modern” streetcar linking Union Depot in downtown St. Paul to the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport and the Mall of America. On Thursday, an advisory group of elected officials and community members recommended the $1.2 billion streetcar option to run along W. 7th — an early, but significant, step in the transit-planning process.
Not everyone is on board. Some, like the Frank-Shannon family, worry how the complicated, yearslong construction project will affect their business.
“We are a small, family-owned business,” Crystal Frank-Shannon told the Riverview Corridor Policy Advisory Committee. “It’s important you keep me in mind, my baby and husband in mind. Remember us. This is my world.”
The committee opted for the streetcar — a mode that doesn’t exist in Minnesota — over five others, including a “no build” option and bolstering bus service.
Thursday’s recommendation now means the public will have its say at a Nov. 9 hearing. Once that occurs, the Policy Advisory Committee will likely vote on a formal recommendation in December. Ultimately, the Metropolitan Council will have a say, presuming Minneapolis, St. Paul, Bloomington and Hennepin and Ramsey counties approve the plan. The line isn’t expected to begin passenger service until 2027.
Light rail, which faced serious community opposition, was ruled out earlier. While sharing some similarities with light rail, the streetcar would operate in traffic along much of W. 7th, sharing track with the Green Line in downtown St. Paul and the Blue Line in Minneapolis between the Fort Snelling light-rail stop and the Bloomington megamall. A tunnel would burrow under Fort Snelling.
A new bridge over the Mississippi River next to the existing Hwy. 5 span would be erected. This is because a streetcar operating in fast-moving traffic on the existing bridge would be unsafe, and the structure itself couldn’t bear the extra weight, said Mike Rogers, transit project manager for the Ramsey County Regional Railroad Authority, which is overseeing the project.
The plan adopted Wednesday includes a caveat that more study will be done regarding a link to the Ford site development in the Highland Park neighborhood.
The majority of the committee said the streetcar option would work well and heartily supported it. John Regal, from the St. Paul Chamber of Commerce, said transit is imperative for the city and region to retain and attract businesses. “Tens of thousands of people have been waiting for this project for 20 years,” Regal said.
Ramsey County Commissioner Rafael Ortega, who chairs the committee and the county’s rail authority, said a growing number of aging baby boomers will need transit to stay mobile. “Transit will be a critical mode for young and old,” Ortega said.
Some believe the streetcar option was pushed because it may attract federal transit dollars.
“My problem, as a member of the business community, is this is really the federally preferred alternative,” said steakhouse owner Pat Mancini.
The Federal Transit Administration (FTA) is expected to pay 49 percent of the project’s cost, with Ramsey and Hennepin counties covering the rest. Jon Commers, who represents the Met Council on the committee, said Riverview is among 65 projects nationwide vying for federal transit money. Many of them enjoy a higher rating with the FTA, said Commers, who nonetheless supported the streetcar option.
Members of another Riverview advisory committee said Arterial Bus-Rapid Transit — similar to the popular A-line connecting Rosedale with the Blue Line’s 46th Street station in Minneapolis — would work better. ABRT is a bus that mimics light-rail transit service; payment is made before boarding, for example.
The committee voted 9-3 for the streetcar. A representative for St. Paul City Council Member Rebecca Noecker, who represents the neighborhood, voted against the measure, saying she needed more information.