Getting the proposed Riverview Corridor streetcar line through the historic and culturally significant area around Fort Snelling could put a squeeze on the tunnel that runs beneath the historic fort. Both options presented on October 21 to the Riverview Corridor Policy Advisory Committee (PAC) call for reducing the traffic lanes in the Highway 5 tunnel to provide space for streetcar tracks.
Riverview tunnel
The first of two options for running the Riverview Corridor line through the tunnel under Fort Snelling includes a gate or other device for stopping traffic on Highway 5 whenever a streetcar exits or enters the tunnel.
 
The Riverview streetcar line would connect Saint Paul’s Union Depot to Minneapolis-Saint Paul International Airport and the Mall of America along a route that connects with the light-rail Blue Line northeast of the airport and light-rail Green Line in downtown Saint Paul.
 
Many factors have to be considered when it comes to any changes near Fort Snelling, Riverview project staff explained. The area around the fort is known as Bdote, a Dakota word that means “where waters come together.” The fort was built in the 1820s at the confluence of the Minnesota and Mississippi rivers.
 
In addition to the operations of Historic Fort Snelling and any disturbances to its historic buildings, project planners must consider the preservation of a designated area of remembrance, the original rock that is considered to be a sacred part of the Bdote landscape, and the visual impact on the National Park Service’s Mississippi National River and Recreation Area. These considerations are what led to the proposal to use the existing tunnel for the streetcar line, according to Jessica Laabs of the consulting firm Kimley-Horn.

One option would have the streetcars running in mixed traffic on that stretch of Highway 5. That would require installing some sort of gate or traffic control device on the highway to stop motor vehicle traffic whenever a streetcar enters or exits the tunnel.

One option would have the streetcars running in mixed traffic on that stretch of Highway 5. That would require installing some sort of gate or traffic control device on the highway to stop motor vehicle traffic whenever a streetcar enters or exits the tunnel. The speed limit on the highway leading up to the tunnel would also need to be reduced from 50 to 35 mph.
 
The tunnel is 67 feet 9 inches wide and currently has two lanes of traffic in each direction. The traffic lanes vary in width from 15 feet 5 inches to 13 feet 10 inches. Under the first option, four 12-foot traffic lanes would be created, two in each direction, and two of the lanes would be shared by streetcars.
 
Under the second option, the streetcars would take turns traveling through the tunnel on a single set of tracks. The tunnel would be reconfigured to have one 11-foot lane for streetcars and four 12-foot 4-inch lanes for motor vehicle traffic, two in each direction.
 
PAC members were not thrilled by either option. Both would require a significant slowing of motor vehicle and streetcar traffic. However, the first option with a gate or traffic control device on busy Highway 5 prompted the most objections.
 
“I’m very concerned with bringing traffic on a highway to a halt,” said Saint Paul City Council member Rebecca Noecker.
 
Metropolitan Council member Kris Fredson said he had mixed feelings about both options. He asked why planners had not considered a flyover, which is a high-level overpass or bridge. Project staff said there is not adequate space for a flyover.
 
Riverview project staff have been working with the Metropolitan Council, Metro Transit and the Minnesota Department of Transportation on the streetcar route, along with such stakeholders as the local American Indian tribes, the Minnesota Historical Society, the National Park Service and the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. Among the other unresolved issues for the proposed transit line is how to get the streetcars across the Mississippi River.

— Jane McClure

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