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Met Council weighs St. Paul to MOA streetcar project

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Riverview Corridor pre-project development study
A map of the current preferred route of the streetcar from Union Depot in downtown St. Paul to the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport and the Mall of America along West Seventh Street.
Courtesy of the Ramsey County Regional Railroad Authority

Plans for a streetcar line on West Seventh Street in St. Paul are inching forward, with the Metropolitan Council expected to vote on the proposal next month. 

Upgrading transit along what's known as the Riverview Corridor has long been a dream of regional planners. Ideas for dedicated bus lanes, bus rapid transit and light rail were in turn floated and scuttled over the past two decades.

The latest proposal is a streetcar that would connect downtown St. Paul to the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport and Mall of America. The new transit mode would use tracks embedded in the roadway and connect to existing light rail lines. Supporters emphasize the "modern" streetcars are more like light rail trains than the sparking, lurching, wooden contraptions of a century ago.

At a public comment hearing held by the Met Council Wednesday Kristine Grill, who lives near West Seventh Street and Interstate 35E, said the streetcar can't come fast enough.

"I regularly take the 54 bus to work and I frequent many of the businesses along West Seventh," Grill said. "I'm looking forward to the day when my little, tiny neighborhood is better connected to the rest of St. Paul."

The streetcar plan already has the approval of the St. Paul City Council, Ramsey County and other local governments. It'll go before the Met Council in February, which will decide whether to include it in its larger transportation policy plan — a key step toward getting critical federal funding. 

The Met Council said the project would include a new bridge over the Mississippi River and a tunnel under Historic Fort Snelling. The total cost could top $2 billion. 

Carol Kist of St. Paul said there are better ways to spend the money. 

"We have to wait years and years for streets to get fixed and sidewalks. But we want to build a bridge and a tunnel so that some people can ride from the airport to their Wild games and back and forth when there's already a bus to do that," Kist said.

If the Met Council signs off on the plan, preliminary engineering and environmental work could begin. But planners say it would be 2031 before the first passengers step on to the modern streetcar.