The Riverview Policy Advisory Committee (PAC) held their first public meeting in months on December 13 to review the current status of the planned transit project.
Project planners presented the current plans for the corridor, including updates to what rail and enhanced transit could look like on West 7th between downtown St. Paul and the Mall of America and changes from some of their initial plans.
Two streetcar options
Ramsey County presented two versions of modern streetcar the PAC will be asked to evaluate in the coming months. The first option has dedicated center-running lanes for passenger cars until the Grand Ave station along West 7th, similar to the Green Line on University Avenue. The second is a mix, with dedicated center-running tracks from Mall of America until the cars reach the Otto/Victoria area, where the train cars will then shift from center-running to side running and be in mixed traffic and operate more like streetcars, with stations curbside. They said option two would require less infrastructure and preserve more on-street parking, but would be in mixed traffic for a large stretch of West 7th.
Bus Rapid Transit
Project planners also presented an option for Arterial Bus Rapid Transit (BRT), similar to the A Line on Snelling Ave., which they say will largely follow the route 54 service currently operated by Metro Transit. This version of the project would see 16 new stations built along the corridor from Mall of America to just outside of Downtown. Once within downtown, buses would use the existing infrastructure.
New Highway 5 bridge
As part of the project, Ramsey County laid out a vision for replacing the Highway 5 bridge over the Mississippi River, which would have to take place if rail is chosen in the corridor. The proposed bridge would be a double decker, with three automobile travel lanes and two dedicated lanes for streetcar. The second level would be dedicated to bicycle and pedestrian traffic, as well as have the potential for holding events and ceremonies for the adjacent Bdote area and Fort Snelling.
Alignment through downtown
County staff shared that, since their last conversation with the PAC, they have made significant changes to the proposed path through downtown for streetcars. Instead of connecting to the existing Green Line tracks, the project is now proposed to travel along Kellogg Blvd. for either of the streetcar options.
Additional stops considered
Project staff said that, as part of planning for streetcar, two additional stops, one at Jefferson Ave. and one at Smith Ave. are being considered. They said these stations were identified along with the request for the alternative to fill in some of the gaps between stations to focus on local trips and development opportunities.
“If the solution was simple, it would have been done already”
Russ Stark, the Chief Resilience Officer with the City of St. Paul and a member of the PAC acknowledged that this was the first time the group had discussed many of the changes, including the second streetcar option presented.
“Some people in this room have talked about this corridor for 40 years, let alone 20, and if the solution was simple it would have been done already,” he said.
He said the City of St. Paul prefers streetcar option two for a few reasons, especially because transit options post-pandemic seem to be less about traditional work trips and more about lots of different daily life trips.
“Do you emphasize the speed of the trip from downtown to the airport or emphasize the experience of using the system up and down west 7th and the potential that a lot of the trips are going to be shorter trips?” Stark said.
Tyler Blackmon, a PAC community member from Highland expressed skepticism over the speed and safety of the second streetcar option presented.
“I’m Concerned about streetcar option two,” he said.
Decisions coming soon
Project staff said that they still had more work to do before any decisions were made, including details analysis of run times, ridership and economic impacts of the two streetcar options, but that they hoped to move quickly, proposing that the PAC meet to decide which streetcar options to be taken to the public as their preferred option as soon as January or February.
The County said they will then take those decisions out for public engagement and re-engage the PAC in the fall for decisions about next steps.
Learn more: visit ramseycounty.us/residents/roads-transportation/transit-corridors-studies/riverview-corridor to learn more about the corridor study and see the presentation from the PAC meeting.