The idea of running a busway or train through the heart of a gorgeous park on the edge of downtown St. Paul offends many who live nearby. But it is an option bound to be examined in greater detail, transit planners are warning neighbors, because that's precisely why public officials bought the right of way in the first place.
Running a route through the city's Swede Hollow Park is only one of many options still being considered as the future Rush Line transitway is mapped out. But the path through the park was purchased years ago as part of a longer potential transit corridor and represents a sizable public investment.
Officials from Washington and Ramsey counties met last week with an unhappy, sign-carrying group of neighbors fearful of the ruin of a natural area that a citywide group of parks advocates is calling a "precious jewel in our midst."
Scanning the crowd, transit planner Andy Gitzlaff asked how many were present to fight off threats to Swede Hollow. Most — meaning dozens — raised their hands.
"If your comment is, 'No Swede Hollow over my dead body,' " he said, "I'd ask you to also say, 'Then what else makes sense for the community?' "
Minnesota state Rep. Sheldon Johnson, DFL-St. Paul, told the group that he has "a stack of e-mails opposing transit development of the Swede Hollow corridor." It will be vital, he said, to ensure that a future Rush Line transitway "serves the residents and is not just a thoroughfare" for suburbanites and other outsiders to speed through the area as quickly as possible.
If it's ultimately approved and funded, Rush Line transit is likely 10 to 15 years away. But decisions on its alignment will be made by next spring. The line would run from Forest Lake to the Union Depot in downtown St. Paul.
Shirley Erstad, executive director of Friends of the Parks and Trails of St. Paul and Ramsey County, has written to transit planners to say: "Bruce Vento Nature Sanctuary and Swede Hollow Park are in two sections proposed as possible transportation routes. With various alternatives available, please remove these two sensitive areas from consideration."
She added: "Other communities are trying to reclaim what they have lost. We still have these precious jewels in our midst. It is incumbent upon us to give them the protection and consideration they deserve."
Transit planners said that trails would remain in the vicinity of the transit line.
Dan Meyers, an outside consultant working on the project, said: "The trail will stay, there's enough space to do that; the Blue Line has a trail all the way to Minnehaha Creek" in Minneapolis.
But an audience member called out, "It will not be the same."
"We live on the [Vento] trail, it's in our backyard, it's all residential," said Kim Muchow, a St. Paul resident. "How dangerous will that be in a neighborhood full of children?"
"I'm not saying it won't be different; it would change the character of the area," Gitzlaff replied. "But there are a lot of safety techniques, including fences and berms. There's 100 feet of right of way, that's a lot of room for two tracks and one trail. We will look at other co-located trails-and-rail" to learn safety lessons.
Planners promised to keep neighbors informed as the process continues through next spring.