An impassioned group of St. Paul citizens, civic leaders and city officials on Tuesday urged state officials to help fund the construction of three additional light rail stops along University Avenue.
Addressing the House Transportation and Transit Policy and Oversight Division at a legislative hearing, they said it’s necessary to have stations at Hamline Avenue, Victoria Street and Western Avenue if the area’s poorest and most ethnically diverse residents are going to be equitably served by the proposed Central Corridor system.
“Enough is enough with being pushed around and moved aside,” boomed Keo Walker, a member of the Stops for Us coalition. “We need these three stops to ensure jobs, benefits and transportation.”
Project construction is slated to start next spring, with completion in 2014. Speakers voiced support for SF2118, a bill that seeks $12 million for the additional stations. No action can be taken until the legislature reconvenes in February, although several division members indicated they would support the bill.
St. Paul City Councilmember Melvin Carter, Ward 1, said leaving the stations out would be catastrophic.
He recalled what happened to the predominantly African American Rondo neighborhood in the 1960s when I-94 was constructed. Carter said his own inheritance had been “bulldozed” when his grandfather lost a number of commercial properties to that project.
Now Carter’s council has pledged nearly $5.2 million to fund one of the three stops, and he called upon the division to help fund the rest.
“So we won’t be – as the old saying goes – the town the train passed through,” he said.
St. Paul City Councilor Lee Helgen, Ward 5, said the stations weren’t originally included because they didn’t pass muster under a federal “cost-effectiveness formula.” Federal dollars are expected to pay for nearly half of the $941 million project, and it remains unclear whether building the stations would compromise those funds.
But supporters said they must find a way.
“It’s an opportunity for us to say we actually believe we are one community,” Rev. Grant Stevensen, president of the faith-based group ISAIAH, said. “We can’t move forward without all of us.”