St. Paul insists on Union Depot in LRT plan
St. Paul officials have unveiled a grand vision for light rail in their city. They say transforming the former Union Depot train station on the river is a critical element. But, the cost of extending the rail line to the depot is high and could make the entire price tag of the line between St. Paul and Minneapolis too rich for the federal government. And without government money there will be no light rail project.
St. Paul, Minn. — St. Paul's new development plan for the Central Corridor is the result of two citizen and small business task forces who met over nine months with city officials and design consultants.
The plan encompasses everything that goes on along side the trains. That is, the businesses, the homes and neighborhoods along University Avenue and downtown streets.
The plan envisions more trees, wider sidewalks, new park spaces, a diversity of housing types and even whole urban villages.
Mayor Chris Coleman announced the completion of the plan to an audience of about 75 citizens, planners and city and county officials.
"It's not just about moving people from downtown St. Paul to downtown Minneapolis -- and by the way, yes, I did say from downtown St. Paul to downtown Minneapolis, because the Central Corridor starts at the Union Depot in case anybody's wondering about that," Coleman said to the applause of the audience.
People ARE wondering. That's because the Metropolitan Council is looking to cut $200 million from Central Corridor's price tag, and stopping the line short of the depot is an option that would shave a reported $70 million from the total cost.
The Union Depot was a bustling train station from 1920 until 1971. And many in St. Paul want to revive its past glory. Coleman says plans are already in the works to make the depot a multi-modal transit hub with Amtrak and commuter rail.
"[The depot] will connect up to the Rush line, will connect up to Red Rock Corridor, hopefully will connect up to high speed rail to Chicago," he said. "If you start viewing it as starting at the depot, a lot of the decisions we make will be different."
St. Paul isn't the only stakeholder with big ideas and plans for the corridor. Hennepin County and Ramsey County have a say, and the Metropolitan Council -- which oversees development in the metro region -- is responsible for building the line.
The Met Council is also responsible for setting a cost for the project. The current pricetag for the full 11-mile line is $930 million. The Federal Transit Administration is saying the cost has to shrink to $820 million.
The depot isn't the only part of the line at risk. There's also a $155 million proposed tunnel running under the University of Minnesota Minneapolis campus. And if new street lighting and landscaping were lopped off the list of expenses, it would save the project a reported $55 million.
Ramsey County Commissioner Toni Carter says decisions about what stays and what goes will be made during the next phase of the project, "preliminary engineering."
"I think we need to have a complete conversation during preliminary engineering," Carter said. "Those three things that have been mentioned certainly have dollars attached to them. Other things have dollars attached to them as well. We want the line to be what we need it to be, and as a community, we have some very tough work to do to determine how that's going to happen."
Despite the cost of streetscape improvements along the corridor, St. Paul light rail project planner Donna Drummond says St. Paul is committed to making it happen.
"One way or another, whether it's a direct part of the LRT budget, or there are other funding sources," she said. "But we think the streetscape improvements, the public realm improvements, where people are going to be walking, is a very important part of making this a good community building investment."
St. Paul's wish list for a rejuvinated Union Depot and beautiful green streetscapes is headed for the Planning Commission. After a public hearing, the City Council and mayor are expected to adopt it as part of the city's comprehensive planning guidelines.
- Morning Edition, 04/24/2007, 7:20 a.m.