Potential streetcar projects moved down the line Tuesday, as St. Paul identified an E. and W. 7th Street route as the first it might build and Minneapolis approved ongoing studies for proposed Nicollet Avenue and W. Broadway routes.

A yearlong study by St. Paul concluded that a route through downtown along 7th Street linking the West End with the East Side would be the best initial line in terms of ridership, development potential and cost.

Estimated price: $246 million. The next step, city planner Michelle Beaulieu said, is to see what the public thinks about the idea.

St. Paul commissioned the $250,000 study, conducted by Nelson/Nygaard Consulting of San Francisco, to analyze how streetcars might work with light-rail and bus lines to improve transit across the city. Mayor Chris Coleman is very interested in exploring the potential of streetcars, as are some City Council members.

The study first identified 17 potential streetcar corridors, many of them used by the old metro streetcar system that was replaced by buses in the 1950s. In August, that list was narrowed to seven lines: E. 7th Street, Grand Avenue, Payne Avenue, Rice Street, Robert Street, Selby/Snelling Avenues and W. 7th Street.

In the study’s final phase, released this week, an E. 7th/W. 7th combined line was found to have the most potential riders, promised to draw the most development (along with Robert Street), and compared well in terms of cost.

The study determined that the 4.1-mile stretch from Randolph to Arcade would cost $246 million to build and $8 million annually to operate, draw 3,100 riders daily and tap $134 million in development potential. Lines on Rice and Robert Streets were chosen as the best lines to complete a starter streetcar network.

To qualify for up to $75 million in federal funding under the Federal Transit Administration’s Small Starts grant program, the line’s expected cost must be no more than $250 million.

Additional funding sources haven’t yet been identified, Beaulieu said.

A public hearing on the streetcar proposal probably will be held in January.

In the meantime, St. Paul hopes to hold open houses next month to get public feedback, Beaulieu said.

The city needs to do preliminary engineering and environmental work, and the Planning Commission and City Council must approve the project before seeking federal help.

In Minneapolis, the City Council’s Transportation and Public Works Committee gave the green light Tuesday to move forward with an environmental review and “pre-project development activities” on the proposed $200 million, 3.4-mile Nicollet Avenue streetcar line.

The committee also approved going ahead with an analysis of the benefits of streetcars vs. enhanced buses along W. Broadway in north Minneapolis.

The Nicollet corridor’s alternatives analysis is largely complete, and the council has signed off on streetcars as the group’s preferred mode of transit improvement along that avenue.

The environmental assessment is expected to be completed in fall 2014. The city now needs buy-in from the Metropolitan Council, which must recognize the Nicollet line in its Regional Transportation Policy Plan.

The W. Broadway line is intended to counterbalance the Bottineau light-rail line, which largely skips over the North Side on its way to the suburbs. Planning by the Metropolitan Council for a third transit line, possibly streetcars, is also underway for the Midtown Corridor.


Staff writer Eric Roper contributed to this report.