MN: After the Green Line, a Host of Bus and Rail Projects on the Horizon

June 11--When the Green Line debuts Saturday, East Metro Strong's informational kiosks will greet passengers at nine stops, urging them to look beyond the new $957 million light rail.

After all, more than two-dozen transit projects of varying scope and intensity are somewhere on the horizon. Their theme: "The Green Line is Just the Beginning."

East Metro Strong executive director Will Schroeer will launch the informational campaign at 11 a.m. Thursday by the Union Depot light rail stop on St. Paul's Fourth Street.

The transit advocacy partnership, which launched in April, includes Dakota, Ramsey and Washington counties, as well as several east-metro cities and businesses. They say employers throughout the metro would benefit if east-metro workers had access to them via public transit.

"We think the east metro needs a lot more lines," said Schroeer. "It's not good for anybody in the region -- east or west -- for the transit system to be lopsided to the west."

The key challenge to their efforts is funding for construction. The state's first light rail line, the $715 million Blue Line, rolled out in 2004, followed by the $320 million Northstar commuter rail in 2009.

At that rate, it would take at least 70 years to complete the 14 high-speed rail, commuter rail, light rail and streetcar projects envisioned throughout the metro.

To jumpstart construction, Met Council Chair Sue Haigh and other advocates are urging lawmakers to consider a new metro-wide half-cent sales tax for transit, which she believes could fund two major projects at once.

Not all efforts center on tracks. Calling modern, limited-stop, express buses a cheaper and more flexible alternative, Metro Transit hopes to launch a new rapid-transit bus route each year for the next 12 years.

EAST METRO

GREEN LINE: Metro Transit's $957 million light rail project runs 11 miles from Union Depot in St. Paul to Target Field Station in Minneapolis. Its June 14 debut caps decades of planning. The proposed Southwest Corridor would extend the Green Line from Minneapolis to Eden Prairie.

metrotransit.org/greenline

GATEWAY CORRIDOR: Proposed transit link from the Union Depot to Woodbury along Interstate 94 could roll out in 2022. The $400 million -- $920 million project would use light-rail trains or rapid-transit buses, based on the results of a study expected next year. thegatewaycorridor.com

RIVERVIEW: The corridor would connects the Union Depot to the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport and Mall of America. It could involve rapid-transit buses, streetcars, light rail or a combo. Ramsey County will study options this summer. Metro Transit plans to debut a rapid-transit bus line on West Seventh Street by 2016. St. Paul is considering a possible $250 million streetcar project from Randolph Avenue to Arcade Street.

ROBERT STREET: Authorities are studying three possible transit routes from downtown St. Paul to northern Dakota County. A modern streetcar or "arterial" Bus Rapid Transit service would operate in traffic along Robert Street. Otherwise, a rapid-transit bus could follow U.S. 52 on shoulder lanes to the 80th St. exit near Inver Hills Community College. robertstreettransit.com

RUSH LINE: The 80-mile line could run from Union Depot to Hinckley, though officials are currently studying a segment that goes as far north as Forest Lake. Metro Transit coach buses currently serve the route up to Running Aces Harness Park in Columbus. rushline.org

RED ROCK: The Red Rock Corridor Commission recently voted to push for a rapid-transit bus from Hastings to downtown St. Paul and downtown Minneapolis as a near-term measure. Officials still dream of someday converting the route to commuter rail, a $350 million project, according to studies from 2007.) redrockrail.org

BUS RAPID-TRANSIT LINES

CEDAR AVENUE BRT / RED LINE: In June 2013, the state's first rapid-transit bus debuted along Cedar Avenue from Apple Valley to the Mall of America. The Minnesota Valley Transit Authority's hybrid buses complete the 11-mile stretch on highway shoulder lanes. Project cost: $112 million project. metrotransit.org/metro-red-line

SNELLING AVENUE "A" LINE: Metro Transit hopes to launch a dozen rapid-transit buses, one yearly, beginning with the Snelling Avenue "A" line in 2015. The $25 million "arterial" BRT route would start at the 46th Street station in Minneapolis and use Ford Parkway and Snelling to get to the Rosedale Shopping Center. A potential extension could reach the Twin Cities Army Ammunition Plant in Arden Hills. metrotransit.org/snelling-brt

WEST SEVENTH STREET "B" LINE: Metro Transit is $6 million away from completing funding for the $28 million "B" Line along West 7th Street between downtown St. Paul, MSP Airport and the Mall of America in Bloomington. The B Line could open in late 2016.

ADDITIONAL BRT: Metro Transit's additional bus rapid transit lines could include routes along Penn Avenue North in Minneapolis, East Seventh, Chicago-Fremont, Lake Street, Central Avenue, Nicollet Avenue, Robert Street, West Broadway, Hennepin Avenue and American Boulevard.

ORANGE LINE: The Metro Orange Line is a planned rapid-transit line between downtown Minneapolis and Burnsville along Interstate 35W. A future extension could reach Lakeville. The 16-mile corridor has been the most heavily-traveled express bus corridor since the 1970s, with about 14,000 daily rides.

STATE RAIL PROJECTS

EMPIRE BUILDER: Amtrak's Empire Builder offers a daily round-trip between Chicago and Union Depot. The state is working with Amtrak on adding a second round-trip.

NORTHERN LIGHTS: MnDOT is studying a possible high-speed passenger rail from Target Field Station to Duluth. The $1 billion Northern Lights Express would operate on 155 miles of existing BNSF right-of-way. NLX

HIGH-SPEED TO CHICAGO: A proposed high-speed passenger rail to Chicago would need major track upgrades to get up to 110 miles per hour, let alone the longer-term goals of 150 or even 210 miles per hour. The "River Route" would connect St. Paul, Red Wing, Winona, Milwaukee and the Windy City. mnhighspeedrail.com

ROCHESTER ZIP LINE: High-speed rail from Rochester could someday roll into Union Depot, the airport, or both. MnDOT says a route selection is probably three years out, with preliminary engineering wrapping up in 2019. The Zip Line from Rochester would travel the 100-mile corridor in about 50 minutes or less. GoZipRail.org

WEST METRO

HIAWATHA: Launched in 2004 as the Hiawatha line, the $715 million Blue Line connects downtown Minneapolis to the Mall of America. It exceeded its projected year 2020 ridership by 2006, and carries more than 31,000 passengers each weekday, about 10.5 million per year. The 12-mile, 19-station corridor shares five stations with the Green Line. Metro Transit facts

NORTHSTAR: The 40-mile commuter rail line connects Big Lake, Minn. to Target Field Station, with seven stops. The $320 million project opened in November 2009, and offers 12 arrivals and departures each weekday and three round-trips each weekend. northstartrain.org

SOUTHWEST: In April, the Met Council approved the general scope for the Southwest Line, an extension of the Green Line from Minneapolis to Eden Prairie. Spanning 16 stations and 16 miles of track, the $1.68 billion light rail would run about a mile in shallow tunnels. If Hennepin County and five host cities consent, service could begin in 2019. swlrt.org

BOTTINEAU: A future extension of the Blue Line could run from Target Field Station to Brooklyn Park near the Target corporate campus. The 13-mile, $1 billion corridor would serve Golden Valley, Robbinsdale and Crystal. Bottineau Transitway

MINNEAPOLIS STREETCAR: The city of Minneapolis is exploring a possible $200 million streetcar corridor along Nicollet, Hennepin and Central avenues from Lake Street to Columbia Heights.

MIDTOWN RAIL: Some form of transit along the Midtown Greenway or Lake Street could someday connect the Green Line's Southwest station near Lake of the Isles in Minneapolis to the Blue Line's Lake Street station.

WEST BROADWAY: Over the next year, Metro Transit will study transit options along West Broadway Avenue, a commercial corridor in North Minneapolis. Options include bus or streetcar service.

Frederick Melo can be reached at 651-228-2172. Follow him at twitter.com/FrederickMelo.

Copyright 2014 - Pioneer Press, St. Paul, Minn.

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