This week has become a critical one for transit planners in Minnesota.
The future of several projects — including whether to study bringing streetcars back to St. Paul — will be affected by key votes Wednesday.
Setting off the week, Minneapolis and the Metropolitan Council on Tuesday announced a tentative compromise that could break the impasse over the Southwest Light Rail Transit line.
The planned project would extend the Green Line, connecting downtown St. Paul with Eden Prairie. It, too, faces a key meeting at the Met Council on Wednesday.
Meanwhile, planning continues on other transit projects. On Thursday, three transit committees will discuss plans for the proposed Gateway Corridor from St. Paul to Woodbury, the Rush Line from St. Paul to Forest Lake, and a possible high-speed rail line from the Twin Cities to Chicago.
Where each project stands:
The St. Paul City Council will vote Wednesday on whether to proceed with a study advancing plans for a streetcar along four miles of Seventh Street from Arcade Street to Randolph Avenue.
Fans and foes of the idea already are squaring off, with concerns raised over a tentative price tag of $250 million and the possible impact on traffic.
Proponents say streetcars provide a fixed amenity to build around, spurring economic development in depressed business districts.
The Ramsey County Regional Railroad Authority is working on two transit studies, the Riverview Corridor and the Rush Corridor, which could include some form of transit service along Seventh Street.
"The city will be working with the county on these studies as the immediate next steps, rather than starting a separate, potentially duplicative, study," said Sara Swenson, a spokeswoman for St. Paul's Planning and Economic Development Department.
Based on a consultant's findings, city officials are proposing the Seventh Street streetcar as the first in a long-term network that could span up to seven lines: East Seventh, Grand Avenue, Payne Avenue, Rice Street, Robert Street, Selby Avenue and West Seventh.
SNELLING AVENUE BRT
The Met Council will vote Wednesday on whether to approve station locations for the A-Line, a bus rapid-transit project along Snelling Avenue and Ford Parkway that is expected to begin operation by the end of 2015.
The line, which is fully funded but has not entered final design, would link the Blue Line's 46th Street station in Minneapolis to the Rosedale Mall in Roseville. Service would run every 10 minutes, with stations a half-mile apart, instead of the eighth-mile increments of a typical bus line.
Metro Transit officials hope to debut a dozen BRT lines over the next 12 years or so. The bus lines, which stop at modern shelters outfitted with electronic signage and security cameras, would operate in normal traffic, receive signal priority at traffic lights, and make fewer stops than a typical bus.
TRANSIT EQUITY PLAN
The Met Council on Wednesday also will take up a draft of its new "transit equity" plan, which calls for more public transit investment in areas of racially concentrated poverty into the year 2040.
In addition to new bus rapid-transit and light-rail lines, the plan calls for new bus shelters at 75 new bus stops, and replacement of 75 old bus shelters at existing stops.
The Met Council says that on an average weekday, 50,000 people board Metro Transit from census tracts where minorities and low-income residents represent a majority of residents.
"This comprises nearly 40 percent of all regional boardings," according to the Met Council.
Wednesday is also a big day for the Southwest Line, a 16-mile extension of the Green Line that would travel from downtown Minneapolis to Eden Prairie.
At 10 a.m., Met Council Chairwoman Susan Haigh will convene a meeting of the Southwest Corridor Management Committee to review a tentative deal with Minneapolis over a proposed configuration. The full Met Council will take up the project scope and revised budget at 4 p.m.
As part of the proposal, the Minneapolis portion of the corridor will be redesigned to remove a planned light-rail tunnel north of the water channel connecting Cedar Lake and Lake of the Isles. A tunnel south of the channel would remain in the plan, with freight rail traveling overhead.
The 21st Street Station will be added back to the design, and the cost savings will help pay for improvements the city had asked for, such as better sidewalk connections, guardrails and landscaping.
A second memorandum of understanding commits the Met Council to work closely with the city and the Hennepin County Regional Railroad Authority to ensure the Kenilworth freight corridor remains publicly owned.
The goal is to decrease the likelihood freight trains will travel through the corridor with greater frequency or carry more dangerous cargo. In a statement, Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges said she was deferring to the "greater good" and that her "support now comes at a high cost -- an unexpected and unwelcome cost -- because freight was supposed to be removed" from the corridor entirely.
If approved, the Met Council's revised budget for the Southwest light rail will be reduced by $30 million, from $1.683 billion to $1.653 billion.
GATEWAY, RUSH, HIGH-SPEED TO CHICAGO
Three public task force meetings related to rail travel are planned Thursday.
-- The Minnesota High-Speed Rail Commission will meet at 10 a.m. at the Goodhue County Government Center to discuss its proposed "river route" from the Twin Cities to Chicago via Red Wing and Winona.
-- The Rush Line Corridor Task Force is looking for a communications consultant to guide public outreach for the next year. A prebid meeting is scheduled for 11 a.m. Thursday at the Union Depot in St. Paul. Though work is presently focused on the St. Paul-to-Forest Lake leg, the task force's ultimate vision is for an 80-mile corridor from Union Depot to Hinckley, Minn.
-- The Gateway Corridor Commission will convene at 3:30 p.m. Thursday in Woodbury City Hall to update plans for a transit corridor from St. Paul to Woodbury in the short term and someday to Eau Claire, Wis. The commission's policy advisory committee will discuss the Gateway Draft Environmental Impact Statement at 2 p.m.
"Bus rapid transit and light rail are the two (options) that are on the drawing board," said Ramsey County Commissioner Rafael Ortega, vice chair of the Gateway Corridor Commission.
Frederick Melo can be reached at 651-228-2172.
Follow him at twitter.com/FrederickMelo.
Copyright 2014 - Pioneer Press, St. Paul, Minn.