July 13, 2017 06:03 PM
It's a question planners in the Twin Cities have wrestled with for years: how do you connect St. Paul's Union Depot to Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport and Mall of America?
As of Thursday, they're down to six options.
"This is about the future, and that's how people have to look at it," said Ramsey County Commissioner Rafael Ortega, chairman of the Ramsey County Regional Railroad Authority and the Riverview Corridor's Policy Advisory Committee.
Notably, none of the six choices includes light rail. Instead, they range from "no build," which would keep Metro Transit Bus 54 as is, to four different street car options, two crossing the river at Highway 5 and two crossing the river at Ford Parkway.
Those last four options would be somewhat similar to the streetcar system in Kansas City -- with the track embedded in the road and the streetcar traveling in the same path as normal vehicles and busses.
"It's been a huge success," Ortega said of the Kansas City system. "It's made their downtown in a matter of two or three years just turn around."
Ortega added that he believes some form of public transportation between Union Depot and the airport is essential to maintaining an economically viable Twin Cities.
"We compete with Kansas City," he said.
But his enthusiasm for streetcars is not shared by all. Dave Cossetta, owner of Cossetta's restaurant in St. Paul, predicts disaster.
"West 7th Street is not wide enough and can't even handle the traffic it has now," Cossetta said. "You add another element in there, and it will absolutely stop business as we know it today."
So the question becomes -- where does the project go from here?
Public meetings are scheduled to start at the end of the month. Planners said they hope to have the six ideas narrowed down to one by the end of the year. At that point, engineers will get to work and local leaders will also request money from the federal government, which planners hope will end up paying for close to 50 percent of the bill.
So the bottom line is -- whether you take a streetcar or a bus -- there is still a long road ahead.
Updated: July 13, 2017 06:03 PM
Created: July 13, 2017 03:30 PM
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