Thursday, July 10, 2014

St. Paul City Council advances streetcar plan

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Somewhat under the radar amidst other rail transit developments in Minnesota's Twin Cities, a proposal for a streetcar line in St. Paul received a unanimous 6-to-0 endorsement by the City Council Wednesday, July 9, 2014.

The City Council decision occurred despite rising opposition to the plan by anti-rail voices fearful of operating costs, potential loss of parking, and purported resultant traffic jams streetcars are perceived to inflict.

The City Council resolution approves initial support for a seven-route system, along with a more concrete study of an initial 4-mile line along Seventh Street. The resolution does not commit the city to actually constructing a streetcar line.

City Council member Russ Stark, who sponsored the streetcar resolution, told local media the Millennial Generation would take to streetcar service, and added that those objecting to government assistance for urban rail transit overlook subsidized automobile factors "There's a general perception out there that the gas tax pays for roads entirely," Stark said. "The gas tax pays for about 40% of roads ... We're all paying for all of it, I guess, is the bottom line."

City Council President Kathy Lantry warned that Minneapolis continues to look into streetcars and other forms of public transit, and St. Paul could be overlooked or relegated to second place – as many in St. Paul believe the capital city was for light rail transit (LRT) – if planning does not begin now.

Last month St. Paul and the Metropolitan Council marked the opening of its Green Line (Central Corridor) LRT line, which initially has drawn good ridership.  Last May Amtrak moved into a restored St. Paul Union Depot, the eastern terminus of the Green Line.

Met Council on Wednesday also unanimously approved a two-pronged compromise package covering the Southwest Light Rail Project, a 16-mile extension of the Green Line that would travel from downtown Minneapolis to Eden Prairie. Met Council and Minneapolis on July 7 announced a tentative pact pending final approval by both parties.