The proposed Riverview Corridor, a 12-mile mass transit link from downtown Saint Paul to Minneapolis-Saint Paul International Airport and the Mall of America, is once again the focus of a public engagement process as it enters its engineering and pre-environmental study phase. This week, the project’s staff will start identifying members of a community advisory committee and a station area planning task force.

After a hiatus of three years, the corridor’s Policy Advisory Committee (PAC) met again on November 5. In late 2017, the committee recommended a modern streetcar line along West Seventh Street as the preferred alternative for the project. Since then, various studies have gone on behind the scenes, preparing for the next phase of work. This latest study phase could also take three years.

Riverview is expected to cost $2 billion to build and $35 million annually to operate and maintain. Plans call for 20 stations, all in Saint Paul. Streetcars would connect to the light-rail Green Line at the Saint Paul Union Depot in downtown and to the Blue Line in Minneapolis after crossing the Mississippi River near Fort Snelling.

transit
The streetcar line that has been selected as the preferred alternative for the 12-mile Riverview Corridor route would cost $2 billion to construct and would run along West Seventh Street between downtown Saint Paul’s Union Depot and the light-rail Blue Line near Fort Snelling.

One issue raised on November 5 is whether the modern streetcar alternative and route could still be changed. One citizen requested to consider having Riverview follow a dormant Canadian Pacific railroad spur from West Seventh into Highland Park and connect with the Highland Bridge development on the former Ford Motor Company site.

Other public comments, including those by members of Citizens Advocating for Regional Transit (CART), focused on the need for light rail in a dedicated right-of-way instead of the smaller modern streetcar option. 

Mike Rogers, a project manager for Ramsey County, said a change to the preferred alternative would happen only if there is some kind of “fatal flaw” to the chosen mode and route. Making such a change could also involve reconsidering other transit options or other routes. Rogers said a bus alternative will be included as a fail-safe measure, but the intent is not to reopen past studies.

“There’s a lot of work before us and we’re looking forward to that,” said Mike Rogers, a project manager for Ramsey County.

The 17-member PAC will meet every other month between now and late 2021 during the engineering and pre-environmental study phase. During that time, additional studies will be conducted and the committee will make recommendations as public comments are received. It would likely be a decade before construction starts.

“There’s a lot of work before us and we’re looking forward to that,” Rogers said. County and city staff and various consultants will be involved in different aspects of the project.

The upcoming studies will include a look at the Riverview operating environment, dedicated or mixed-traffic operations, the effect on on-street parking and utilities, and how special events in downtown will affect transit. Streetscape improvements, public safety and the pedestrian environment will get further study. Where to locate an operations and maintenance facility also has to be considered.

Another issue that will be on the table is roadway jurisdiction. Seventh Street is a state highway, although turning the street back to the city or county has been discussed.

Two key issues will be different during this phase of the study, Rogers said. One is for station area land-use planning to be led by the city. The study will have a 20-member task force, with a Saint Paul Planning Commission member as co-chair. The group will look at station locations and how zoning could be changed to spur development. Any decisions on station area planning will be made by the Planning Commission and City Council.

A second difference in this phase of the study is the involvement of the 11 regional Indian tribes to address issues around Fort Snelling and Bdote. Tribal representatives recently met with project staff and consultants to discuss that area’s significance to Native Americans.

For more information on the Riverview Corridor, go to tinyurl.com/y59v2czb.

— Jane McClure

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