Transit Improvement for THIS Generation

Letter to the Editor

By Kent Petterson
Last month the Community Reporter brought us a story written by Jim Schoettler of CART (Citizen Advocates for Regional Transit). In this current study process for the Riverview Corridor, the CART regional light-rail transit (LRT) plan is a distraction and not on the table. Jim and I and many others spent what seemed like endless meeting hours observing and commenting during the earlier study. It was led by Ramsey County Commissioner Raphael Ortega and a Policy Advisory Committee (which I will call PAC-1). That process ultimately ended with the unsatisfying result of choosing modern streetcar as the mode and West 7th Street as the alignment for what’s called the “locally preferred alternative” (LPA) that we have before us. This LPA is a required step for eligibility to receive roughly 50 percent federal matching of local funding for such large-scale transit projects.

We now have spent six years seeking those federal dollars for this big-buck project. My own frustration—and that of many others who wanted to see better transit in our neighborhoods—already boiled over years ago in 2014, when Metro Transit had federal funding committed for an arterial Bus Rapid Transit (A-BRT) project on West 7th that could have been built and been serving transit-dependent people in roughly 2017. It is tragic and confounding that the proposed LPA may, per Ramsey County’s projection, not be in service until 2032. Nearly a generation of public transit riders could be deprived of improvements by this faulty process.

The delays need to stop! But instead, Ramsey County is back at the table with a new advisory committee (PAC-2, for lack of a better acronym), which must be completed before we are even able to move on to the Environmental Impact Study Phase required by the Feds.

This current PAC-2 is projected to take three years. As announced on November 5 at its first meeting, Ramsey County, with an array of hired consultants, has given itself 16 months to overcome the failure points it discovered and couldn’t resolve in the three years of the previous PAC-1.

Now, again, we wait, while our “little engine that could” neighborhood is getting jerked around, not getting transit improvements. At the same time, other neighborhoods like those along East 7th Street are getting needed investments, and the Minnesota legislature has authorized funding for two more BRT projects across the region. 

This PAC-2’s composition is also disappointing. While the members are largely the same as the previous committee, our neighborhood representative Laurel Severson was replaced by a member from Highland. In another potentially more damaging shortcoming, no representative from our local Joint Riverview Transit Task Force (JRTTF) was invited to be on PAC-2. Three members of the West 7th Business Association and three from the Ft. Road Federation have been meeting for nearly three years as this task force and worked to keep our organizations and the neighborhood informed about this very issue. As a member of the JRTTF, I don’t endorse this peculiar snub. We have met with Metro Transit, our Metropolitan Council representative, Kris Fredson, and with Commissioner Ortega’s staff, and we have assembled an in-depth study of our neighborhood desires for the future. Apparently, Ramsey County doesn’t want to have direct communication about this.

The modern streetcar LPA is bad for our street. I have written about this many times in the Community Reporter. More importantly, it is a bad LPA for transit-dependent riders who need improvement sooner rather than a generation late, if the plan indeed ever comes to completion.

CART’s November article raised a crucial compatibility issue between the region’s Blue & Green LRT lines and modern streetcar. Although this never came up publicly in the PAC-1 or related technical meetings, all of which I attended, when I recently asked for a clarification from Ramsey County, I was told there were background assurances the compatibility issue was not a problem. Well, it is a problem, and it will require a major work around. Otherwise the streetcar vehicle will be isolated on the Riverview alignment, unable to unload passengers onto the Blue or Green LRT stations, which it is in fact planned to be able to do. The situation makes one wonder whether the entire planning exercise has been one long con, a giant bait and switch of mode that will only be revealed when our county’s consultants inform us one morning that there was a mistake, and we’re back to LRT on West 7th. 

After enduring this process beside them, I agree with Jim Schoettler and his colleagues at CART that the first priority for transit improvement in the corridor should be a local bus on West 7th, with high-service frequency.  And I agree with them that any rail transit in the corridor must be on a separate right-of-way based on regional rail transit needs and standards. It is a folly to try to combine the two as Ramsey County has with its LPA.

Email Kent Petterson at terrace@winternet.com.

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