More than 100 people attended a public hearing Thursday intended to take the community’s pulse on a proposed streetcar project along St. Paul’s Riverview Corridor.
Residents and business people who live and work along the line expressed both support and dismay regarding the 11.7-mile line.
“This is a good transit corridor; it’s growing,” said Mike Rogers, transit project manager for the Ramsey County Regional Railroad Authority.
Last month, an advisory group of elected officials and community members recommended that a “modern streetcar” run along W. 7th Street from Union Depot to the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport. Passenger service would begin in 2027.
Such a streetcar, now operating in Kansas City, Detroit and Portland, Ore., runs on fixed track, and would sometimes operate in traffic. It shares some attributes of light rail, including street-level boarding, payment before boarding, and service every 10 minutes during peak travel times.
Riverview would be the first streetcar of its kind in Minnesota, and it’s an option that was chosen over five others, including light rail, improved bus service and not building anything at all.
Some community members said the streetcar would be an important link in the region’s transportation network, connecting people with jobs. The authority estimates that it would provide transit access to nearly 124,000 jobs.
“I’m multimodal,” said Mark Olivares, who lives along the corridor. “I don’t like the fact that the [Route] 54 bus is packed all the way to the Mall of America.” He noted a streetcar is an important service for working-class people living along the line. “I don’t want anyone to be left out.”
Several others said the best option would be arterial bus rapid transit, similar to the popular A-Line that connects the Rosedale mall to the 46th Street Blue Line LRT station. This type of bus operates in traffic, but requires riders to pay before boarding, like LRT.
Bus rapid transit would be cheaper than the streetcar, which is expected to cost $1 billion to $1.3 billion. Almost half of that would be picked up by the federal government.
Others said they’re worried about the impact construction would have on small businesses along W. 7th while the line is being constructed. Several noted the difficulties some businesses along University Avenue experienced while the Green Line LRT was being built.
A new bridge would need to be built adjacent to the Hwy. 5 bridge over the Mississippi River, then a tunnel would be burrowed under Fort Snelling. The line would then link to the Blue Line Fort Snelling LRT stop and continue on to the airport and the Mall of America.
Now that the Policy Advisory Committee has held a public hearing, it is expected to vote on its final recommendation in December. Then St. Paul, Minneapolis and Bloomington, Hennepin and Ramsey counties and the Metropolitan Airports Commission would consider the proposal before it goes to the Met Council.