Twin Cities: Connecting the East Metro: Pioneer Press editorial

Source: Pioneer Press 12/01/2015

Think of the Riverview Corridor this way: It’s the long-awaited “third leg” of a public transportation triangle in the Twin Cities.

The Blue Line connects downtown Minneapolis and the MSP airport. The Green Line links downtown St. Paul and Minneapolis. But on the final leg — the 12-mile corridor from Union Depot to the airport and Mall of America — the only option now is the Metro Transit 54 bus, a report by the Pioneer Press’ Sarah Horner points out.

Among its objectives, Riverview transit development would help correct “that imbalance between Minneapolis having that direct connection for the last decade and St. Paul still lacking it,” City Council Member-elect Rebecca Noecker told us.

“Any major city needs a direct, easy-to-understand and ideally fast route to the airport,” said Noecker, whose ward includes part of the corridor.

But when travel planners tell visitors about arrival in the Twin Cities, the options for reaching one of the two downtowns can amount to these: a quick and convenient light-rail trip to Minneapolis or a bus to St. Paul that will arrive subject to weather and road conditions.

“My fear is — absent that connectivity — that convention planners and others will say it’s more convenient to get to downtown Minneapolis than downtown St. Paul,” St. Paul Area Chamber of Commerce President Matt Kramer told us.

Riverview transit development “becomes that connectivity that allows both downtowns to compete on their own basis,” he said.

When it comes to that ability to compete, we don’t hesitate to raise the flag for St. Paul and the east metro.

When you look at transit maps of St. Paul and Minneapolis, “it sure seems like it’s being teed up to have light-rail lines radiating from the hub in Minneapolis and buses radiating from the hub in St. Paul,” Kramer said. “That’s not acceptable.”

Meanwhile, the process is lengthy and there’s much to consider, including cost and the balancing of priorities. Among them, Noecker told us, is working to assure that new transit will “be an amenity that also benefits people who live along the corridor” and that it connect to development at the former Ford plant site in Highland Park.

A new report on the corridor is aimed to examine the handful of public transportation routes and modes most worthy of further study, Horner reported.

Mike Rogers, transit project manager for the Ramsey County Regional Rail Authority and project manager for the Riverview Corridor, highlights the importance of taking “the appropriate amount of time to really look at things,” along with the “opportunity to talk to the public about what they’re interested in seeing.” Details on the effort and opportunities for public input are at riverviewcorridor.com.

There are a “whole basketful of options,” Rogers told us, noting that a key task now is to “figure out which handful” should receive more detailed technical analysis.

Options, Horner reported, include using West Seventh Street and an old Canadian Pacific Railway spur that runs parallel to it as possible routes. Among modes mentioned are bus rapid transit in mixed traffic or with its own lane, the “modern streetcar,” light rail and a multiple-unit train powered by diesel. Development also could mix and match routes and modes along parts of the corridor.

As we advocate for east metro, we recognize the value of the regional approach, with transit development on the corridor good for downtown St. Paul — and good for the region.

“If you want the region’s two downtowns to both prosper, then this is a critical link,” said Will Schroeer, executive director of East Metro Strong, the coalition formed to advance the transit vision in Ramsey, Dakota and Washington counties.

It’s not only about downtown to the airport, he told us, “it’s about connecting the whole east metro to Riverview.”

In a prosperous region, those connections matter.

 

 

 

Will Schroeer, Executive Director
will@eastmetrostrong.com