Central Corridor light rail: Researchers watching if it’s changing residents’ health


Cars and trucks, planes and trains, all have an impact on the human condition as they wend their way through our cities and our lives – no less so the Central Corridor Light Rail Transit Line now under construction between the downtowns of St. Paul and Minneapolis.

Just what human effect the line produces remains to be seen in years ahead, which is why several groups are taking a closer look now at the quality of life along the projected LRT line, a generally economically poor area.

Among them are the following.

Community Sketchbook focuses on the economic and social challenges facing communities, especially low-income communities and communities of color, and how people are trying to address them.

It is made possible by support from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, The Minneapolis Foundation, and some Minneapolis Foundation donor advisors.

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TakeAction Minnesota, Isaiah and PolicyLink together are studying the health and environmental impacts the LRT will have for people living one-half mile north and one-half mile south of the St. Paul line. Calling the Health Corridor for All campaign a “community research process,” TakeAction communcations director Greta Bergstrom, says a draft of the study is expected in mid January and will be followed by recommendations for city officials.

The Central Corridor Funders Collaborative, is a 12-member partnership of local and national foundations “invested in community development with good outcomes for people and places along the line,” according to director Jonathan Sage-Martinson. It has commissioned Wilder Research to collect data and do some surveys of people living in the area. That report is expected early next year. (The collaborative has supported MinnPost’s urban living Cityscape blog with a grant.)   

A third project is nearing completion by the state Department of Health. The two-year effort documents the health of the community of people now living along the Central Corridor. More than 40,000 people are projected to ride along that route by 2030.

Called the Healthy Communities Count Project, the state report groups as a community the persons living along a 9-mile path stretching from downtown St. Paul and the Capitol, through the Midway, past the University of Minnesota and into Minneapolis and the Metrodome area. (The Central Corridor stretches a couple of miles further to connect with existing transit, but the state study focuses on the new transit path.)



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What’s prompted the state project, funded by a grant from the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, says project coordinator Jim Kelly, is that the light rail line has “a big opportunity to have a positive influence on the health of the community.”

Kelly described a “whole kind of movement starting to gain momentum around the country…using tools… to look at the impact of development decisions, the impact of laws and regulations and their impact on public health.” Developers and cities are beginning to use such findings to create positive change, Kelly said.

Cleaning up contaminated brownfield sites, for instance, could stimulate local business development, which could reduce unemployment and allow people to walk rather than drive to work, thus providing them exercise necessary for good health, Kelly hypothesized.

The hope is that a few years down the road a similar health study will be done and the data from now and then compared, with today’s data being used to stimulate discussions about ways to, for instance, re-structure the community for better health. The report is expected to be completed in mid November.

So far, the project has compiled data for 14 of 18 categories, or core counts, as they call them, under these four groupings: health, land and environment, community and buildings and infrastructure. The core counts are “indicators of different aspects related to good health,” Kelly said.
Data collected and placed online so far makes for interesting reading. For example, measurements include: lead poisoning in children, infant mortality and low birth rates, asthma hospitalizations, air pollution, acres of parks, under-used or polluted land, education, employment, easy access to healthy food, and quality of housing.

In the under-used or polluted land category, you’ll find this map, sourced by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and put in perspective by the quote below.

From the website: “According to MPCA data, over 20% of Minnesota’s known or possible (non-petroleum) contaminated sites are in the Twin Cities. Seven percent of Minnesota’s contaminated sites are located within the Central Corridor area. The information shows that areas along University Avenue have more possible brownfield sites than other areas of the Twin Cities.”

You’ll find income information here. According to the 2000 U.S. Census data, most people living along the Central Corridor have household incomes below the Twin Cities average of $63,500, for an average income of $41,400.



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Kelly says the Department of Health has worked with the community in structuring the project.

Further, though Kelly says the collected statistics are not surprising, the hope is the data will stimulate discussion, planning and action to improve health. The documentation is important, he said “so people have information to help express their wishes and opinions about what the area [should] look like in the future.”

“Now that the dirt is being dug and things are starting to happen, I think we’ll switch to these longer term issues,” Kelly said.