Bicyclists, pedestrians and public transportation riders traveling through St. Paul's Highland Park may one day be able to follow the route trains took to the old Ford Motor Co. plant.
St. Paul city planners announced last week they're studying the five-mile Canadian Pacific corridor for potential uses. Land surveying has begun, and planners will seek community input through March 2018. The railroad track originates at the Ford site, turns south, then east, and runs along West 7th Street to St. Clair Avenue, one mile from downtown St. Paul.
Planners will evaluate whether to remove the tracks, said Mollie Scozzari, spokeswoman for the city's Planning and Economic Development Department. New uses of the corridor could include a bike trail, light-rail or bus line.
The study is the 16th in the past 10 years to look at redevelopment options for the Ford site and surrounding area. It's separate from the Riverview Corridor study, already underway, which is looking at transit options for a connection between St. Paul and the Mall of America. And a transportation study completed in November evaluated how extending streets into the Ford site could connect with the surrounding neighborhood.
The Ford automotive plant shut down in 2011. City leaders have been working on plans for redevelopment in the area, including parks, streets and 4,000 housing units. But some neighboring residents worry that introducing up to 7,200 more people could make the area too densely populated and cause traffic congestion.
The Canadian Pacific tracks have sat unused since the plant shut down. Some residents living along them are worried about increased noise and light pollution if the route is used for public transportation, like a bus rapid transit line or light rail, said Highland District Council President Melanie McMahon.
"Residents living along it are used to the quiet," McMahon said. "If you're sitting in your backyard, what's it going to feel like?"
Still, Council Member Chris Tolbert, who represents the area, said adding public transit could help decrease traffic congestion in and around the redeveloped Ford site.
"Every person riding transit is one less car on the street," Tolbert said.
Half the $200,000 cost of the study is funded through a grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation. Another $70,000 will come from the city of St. Paul, and Ford Motor Co. and transit-focused business group East Metro Strong will cover the remainder.
Jessie Bekker is a University of Minnesota student on assignment for the Star Tribune.