Tracy Farr is a fan of the fast, Wi-Fi outfitted bus rapid transit routes in the Twin Cities. But he’s not sure if that’s the kind of transit he wants by his home near St. Paul’s West Seventh Street.
Another option, modern streetcar — a mode that doesn’t yet exist in Minnesota — would attract riders who avoid buses, he said.
Residents and public officials are weighing the pros and cons of different transit types and routes as they try to determine the future of the Riverview Corridor line, which will serve communities along a southwest swath of St. Paul and in the southeast corner of Minneapolis.
Public officials will sift through a grab bag of opinions, like Farr’s, gathered at a series of public meetings this week to inform their decision later this year on the transit project.
In addition to streetcar and bus rapid transit, officials have the option of scrapping the project and just adding more local buses to accommodate the area’s growing population. That’s an idea that pleases some neighbors who would be affected by transit construction and noise. But not Laura Nichols, who lives less than two blocks from the proposed route that would connect downtown St. Paul to the airport and Mall of America.
“Nothing is not an option,” she said, after local governments spent so much money studying the corridor. Nichols, one of about 50 residents at Wednesday’s meeting, said she prefers bus rapid transit, which would cost less and travel faster than streetcar.
Advisory committees will vote in December on their locally preferred Riverview Corridor route, which could include a detour north to the Ford site or be a fairly direct path from downtown St. Paul to the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport and the Mall of America. They will also recommend a transit type: BRT, modern streetcar or the “no build” option with more local buses.
BRT, which would not run to the Ford site, would cost $75 million to build and about $10 million annually to operate and maintain, based on 2015 estimates and not counting for inflation. Many different routes are still on the table for a modern streetcar option so construction costs vary from $1 billion to $1.5 billion. Annual expenses would be between $24 million and $28 million.
The advisory committees don’t have the final say, Ramsey County Regional Railroad Authority project manager Mike Rogers said. Officials with Minneapolis and St. Paul and Hennepin and Ramsey counties need to endorse the plan and the Metropolitan Council must also consider it.
The plan would affect St. Paul’s West Seventh Street and Highland Park communities, and Minneapolis’ Hiawatha neighborhood.
Farr said transit is essential to determining whether the area becomes a “backwater” or a “thriving, hip place.”
Rob Wales, of Highland Park, was sold on light rail — a transit option now off the table. Like Farr, he said transit along the corridor is critical and will help people connect to jobs and bring more people to downtown St. Paul.
But Cathy Strub, who also lives in Highland Park, said she likes her neighborhood as-is.
“It’s a nice, quiet neighborhood right now,” said Strub, who is worried about streetcar noise. She said she can already hear noise from the Blue Line light rail across the river.
John Folta, who lives by the Blue Line in Hiawatha, said the addition of a streetcar there would “destroy a cohesive neighborhood” in Minneapolis by boxing it in with transit that would primarily serve St. Paul.
The Riverview Corridor advisory committees ruled out expensive light rail after an outpouring of community concern about rail’s impact on the comparatively narrow corridor. Committees also voted against dedicated BRT that runs in its own lane.
Arterial BRT, where the bus runs in the same lanes as cars, is still on the table. Planners also deemed streetcar to be less intrusive than other rail because it is narrower and cars can drive on its tracks.