Our thoughts on the proposed new Riverview Corridor line
Have you ever wondered why you can take a train from the Mall of America to Minneapolis and Minneapolis to St. Paul, but not from St. Paul to the mall? The missing piece of this transit triangle just met an important milestone in it's planning process.
After two and a half years of study, on December 14, 2017, the Ramsey County Regional Rail Authority's Policy Advisory Committee recommended a route (river crossing included) and vehicle type (modern streetcars) to connect Union Depot in downtown St. Paul and the Mall of America, a.k.a. the Riverview Corridor. Formally, this decision is called the "Locally Preferred Alternative" or "LPA."
The LPA calls for a modern streetcar to run from downtown St. Paul, along West 7th Street, over the Mississippi River at the Highway 5 Bridge, and through Fort Snelling before connecting with the Blue Line tracks at the existing Fort Snelling transit station to complete the trip through the airport terminals to the Mall of America.
A modern streetcar will be able to share tracks and stations with the Green & Blue Line trains, however, it does have several differences. The recommended vehicle has smaller cars and will only be one to two cars long. Modern streetcars also run in the same lane as traffic, so when none are present, cars of the automobile variety are free to use the travel lane.
What we love
FMR generally supports the recommended plan, but with some caveats and concerns.
We commend the choice of a route that crosses the river at an existing bridge and serves the most people and the most transit-dependent residents. We also applaud the choice of a vehicle that can be powered by green energy. These choices minimize impact to river corridor recreational users, habitat and geology. They also increase access to the many riverfront parks and historic/sacred spaces and help reduce our carbon footprint.
FMR also supports the proposed stops as they will increase access to our riverfront parks and trails (including High Bridge Dog Park, Crosby Farm Regional Park, Hidden Falls Regional Park, Historic Fort Snelling State Park, Sam Morgan Regional Trail and the Minnesota Valley Regional Trail). It's vitally important to ensure all community members and visitors can enjoy these beautiful green spaces — all of which are a part of our local national park, the Mississippi National River and Recreation Area.
The one stretch that gives us pause...
While we appreciate the increased accessibility to local riverfront parks and trails, FMR is greatly concerned about the section of the route that goes through Historic Fort Snelling, between the Highway 5 Bridge and the existing Fort Snelling Blue Line Station.
Current project models include a potential route that puts tracks between the historic cavalry barracks and the river bluff edge, a width we estimate to be as little as 50 feet in some places. While this is only one of several possible alignments, FMR has registered our strongest objection to that option. Building a rail corridor in this space would significantly degrade the scenic character of the Mississippi River Gorge and impact one of Minnesota's most historic places. The Bdote Minisota is a sacred American Indian place at the confluence of the Minnesota and Mississippi Rivers and the Fort Snelling historic site is one of the State's most visited. The impact on historic resources and scenic values in that most special location would be unacceptable to FMR's members. Additionally, the new Mississippi River Corridor Rules prohibit this route due to its proximity to the bluff-edge and the shoreline, unless no other feasible alternative exists - something we do not believe to be the case.
FMR will continue to advocate on this issue to ensure that the route that is finally selected through minimizes impacts to this very significant site.
(For additional details about FMR's position, check out our complete comment letter.)
Now that the LPA has been selected, the Ramsey County Regional Rail Authority will apply for funding to conduct a thorough two-year technical study. The anticipated open date for this new transit line is 2027.
FMR will continue to closely follow this project.
If you'd like to help us ensure that the new Riverview Corridor line enhances the Twin Cities river corridor, let us know by signing up to be a River Guardian! River Guardians receive carefully selected action alerts to advocate for the river when we need your help the most, as well as invitations to special River Guardians happy hours to learn about legislative and river corridor issues such as this.