The Star Tribune August 27, 2000, Sunday, Metro Edition reported (via LexisNexis):
St. Paul asks: Light rail or busway?;
Public hearings in Ramsey County soon will be airing various transit options for a corridor linking the East Side, downtown and the airport.
Kevin Duchschere; Staff Writer
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As plans for the Hiawatha light-rail line in Minneapolis move forward, officials and residents in St. Paul are getting ready to jump into a light-rail debate of their own.
At issue is the best way to shuttle people between St. Paul and Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport.
A $1.15 million study released last week lists seven transit options for the area known as the Riverview Corridor, a 12-mile swath that runs from St. Paul’s East Side to downtown and along W. 7th Street to the airport area.
The choices include three light-rail scenarios and two plans for a traffic-free busway. Several community hearings are planned in the next few weeks before the Ramsey County Regional Railroad Authority recommends one of the options to the Metropolitan Council in November.
The study, conducted by private consultants, draws no conclusions. But its facts and figures indicate that a busway, while expected to draw fewer new riders than a light-rail line, also would cost far less than light rail and have less impact on homes, businesses and parks.
Those findings may give Riverview an edge when Met Council officials decide this fall which metro transit route should receive $44 million in state funds for a busway, a lane set apart for speedy bus travel. While not the top route in terms of ridership potential, Riverview may get the nod from state officials eager to mollify St. Paul after awarding the first light-rail line to Minneapolis.
Tony Bennett, chairman of the rail authority _ which consists of Ramsey County Board members _ said some may be surprised that the study considers options other than light rail, and that not all of the routes follow W. 7th Street.
“A lot of people did not think we were looking at all the alternatives, but this report should put that issue to rest,” he said.
The outcome for Riverview is important not just for St. Paul, but for regional transit needs.
The Riverview Corridor is the second leg of an anticipated transit triangle that, along with the Hiawatha light-rail line and the Central Corridor between downtown Minneapolis and downtown St. Paul, would link both cities with the airport and the Mall of America in Bloomington.
The study, 80 percent funded with federal money, was done not only to aid local decisionmakers but also to help federal officials decide whether future spending on Riverview is justified. Federal funds will be used, with state and local money, for $1.75 million worth of bus shelter and lighting improvements next spring along 7th Street and in downtown St. Paul, said Kathryn DeSpiegelaere, director of the rail authority.
Bus vs. rail
The Riverview study outlines proposed routes, station locations, costs and expected ridership for five options involving either light rail or a dedicated busway. It also includes a “no-build” option and a low-cost strategy to improve and increase regular bus service along W. 7th Street.
According to the study:
– A light-rail line would cost $370 million to $405 million, depending on where it is built. The most expensive route would be along the Canadian Pacific Railway tracks, followed by a route linking the tracks with Interstate Hwy. 35E. The least expensive would be the W. 7th Street option. Annual operating costs: $13 million to $14 million.
– A traffic-free busway along the tracks would cost $120 million to $130 million to build; the other busway option, along W. 7th Street, would cost $75 million to $85 million. Eitherbusway option would cost $10 million annually to operate.
– About 1,100 new riders each day would use the light-rail line, as opposed to 600 to 700 new riders daily on the busway. Daily transit trips would range from 67,000 on the busway to 70,500 on light rail, and travel time between Earl Street on the East Side and the airport would range from 33 minutes on the busway to 36 minutes on light rail.
– The light-rail options include 13 planned stations and five to six optional stations, while the busway would include 11 planned stations and an additional six proposed stations.
Bennett said he likes the idea of a busway route on the railroad right-of-way.
“Human nature is to say, ‘I don’t like buses,’ but they’re talking about what’s on the street today and we’re talking about something on a dedicated busway, with new and different buses . . . stopping once every mile or two at key intersections,” he said.
Riverview is one of three transit corridors under consideration in the East Metro area. A study on transit choices for the Central Corridor will be ready in late 2001, DeSpiegelaere said.
And early next year the rail authority plans to release early next year a transit study on the Red Rock Corridor, which stretches along the railroad tracks between St. Paul and Hastings, she said.
State transportation officials and legislators agreed last year to earmark $69 million over a five-year period to develop the Riverview and Central corridors, in exchange for Ramsey County’s support for $100 million in funding for Minneapolis’ Hiawatha line.
In brief, it wasn’t even worth building a busway in the corridor 10 years ago, but now it is so valuable as a billion-dollar LRT possibility (10-15 years from now, maybe) that the ready-to-go arterial BRT B-Line in the corridor must be delayed indefinitely.