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St. Paul’s W. 7th St. leads pack for transit

While officials won’t set a route and mode for transit on the Riverview Corridor until the end of the year, many signs are pointing to an alignment along West Seventh Street between downtown St. Paul and the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport.

A new market analysis shows West Seventh Street is already well-traveled, connected to employment and entertainment destinations, and primed with redevelopment sites. Early engagement with the community has also shown a preference for the West Seventh Street alignment for the first 5 miles of the line in St. Paul.

Project consultants shared insights they’ve gained so far at a meeting Thursday with city and county officials along the corridor.

But for all of West Seventh’s land use advantages, it’s also more likely to experience business, traffic and construction impacts. Community members are wary because of the perceived impact of construction on the Green Line between the downtowns of St. Paul and Minneapolis. According to the Central Corridor Funders Collaborative, 121 businesses have closed or moved off of the University Avenue corridor since 2011. Even so, 134 businesses opened in that time.

Details on construction impacts and property acquisitions required on West Seventh will be needed to make a decision, St. Paul City Council Member David Thune pointed out at the meeting.

“Everyone’s afraid we’ll pick something and then say ‘Oh by the way, West Seventh Street’s going to be shut down for a year and a half,’ or ‘By the way, we’re going to have to acquire or buy out this church and 12 different houses,” Thune said.

Ramsey County Commissioner Rafael Ortega said that kind of detail probably won’t be available during the early stages.

In meetings this summer, the AECOM-led consultant team has sought feedback on a wide array of routes through the corridor, which is bounded by the Mississippi River to the west and Interstate 35E to the east. Other parallel routes under consideration are farther east on Shepard Road or on a Canadian Pacific rail spur. Near the Highway 5 Bridge, the transit line would need to cross the river.

Depending on the transit technology used, a light rail line could share track with the existing Blue Line to the airport. Bus rapid transit could serve the existing Blue Line stations.

A lot of people recognize that [West Seventh]would serve a lot of people, the neighborhood and better access to businesses,” said Joy Miciano, a consultant with Zan Associates who is working with the AECOM team.

In terms of redevelopment, a West Seventh alignment would hit all six of the opportunity areas identified by the consultants, including the 17-acre former U.S. Bank operations center, the former Schmidt Brewery and the reclaimed Victoria Park neighborhood.

At the beginning of the route is the former Seven Corners hardware store site where the Opus Group plans to develop a hotel, retail and residential project. At Davern Street, St. Paul-based Paster Enterprises plans to knock down its Sibley Plaza retail center and replace it with 120 units of apartments over a new shopping center.

Beyond the alignment, transit service to the 125-acre former Ford Motor Co. assembly site is also a consideration of the Riverview study. The report suggests routing transit service from downtown to the Ford site and connecting to the Blue Line’s 46th Street Station in Minneapolis, where an LRT line could share track.

While the option is better for long-term redevelopment of the site, it’s a longer and less direct trip, according to the report. A bus rapid transit or shuttle link could also connect the Ford site to Riverview Corridor stations to the east.

So far, feedback indicates that community members would like to connect to the site, but that a faster and more direct trip between downtown and the airport is also important, Miciano said.

Light rail or bus rapid transit would be the preferred mode, Miciano said, when compared to streetcar, commuter rail and other options. Feedback seems to suggest people are less enthusiastic about BRT but that it’s “OK if LRT is not selected,” she said.

Stakeholders have viewed the Riverview Corridor as a missing link in a potential LRT triangle between Minneapolis, St. Paul and Bloomington. The new line could connect with the existing Green Line and the Blue Line in the Twin Cities.

A light rail line is estimated to cost $1.045 billion, according to recent cost estimates by the Counties Transit Improvement Board. The board, which collects a sales tax in five counties for transit capital improvements, has said it would pay for 80 percent of the light rail line to accelerate its development and bypass the federal funding process.

Next, the consultant team will begin screening alternatives and providing a more detailed evaluation of the options. By this winter, officials from the cities and counties along the corridor will be asked to recommend a locally preferred alternative for the project.

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