Most St. Paul residents and business owners know that light-rail transit (LRT) is coming to this neck of the woods, but many are confused about the details.
To reduce that confusion, the Metropolitan Council, one of the chief players in the Central Corridor LRT project, has undertaken a series of meetings to inform people about project plans and solicit suggestions for making the process run as smoothly as possible.
One of those meetings was held July 17 at the South St. Anthony Recreation Center. The Met Council’s Robin Caufman, manager of public involvement for the Central Corridor, made a presentation and fielded questions.
Caufman said that plans for the Central Corridor, which will run between downtown Minneapolis and St. Paul, mostly along University Avenue, have been buoyed by the success of the Hiawatha Line, which began operating in 2004. Ridership on that line averaged 28,146 per weekday in 2006, which exceeded preconstruction estimates for 2020. Caufman said Metro Transit surveys reveal that up to half of LRT riders had not previously used mass transit.
The Central Corridor will be 11 miles long and will have 16 stations. Trains will run every 7.5 minutes during peak hours and every 10–15 minutes in off-peak periods. The line will operate 21 hours a day. A trip between the two downtowns will take 35 minutes.
Unlike the Hiawatha Line, which Caufman described as “pre-emptive,” Central Corridor trains will operate on a priority basis. That means they will stop for traffic lights but will be able to shorten a red light or lengthen a green one to facilitate their progress.
Asked how the trains will be faster than buses running along University Avenue, Caufman cited the fact that LRT riders purchase tickets before boarding, making that process more efficient. Also, the trains make fewer stops than do buses, and because they run on their own track they don’t have to navigate in and out of traffic.
Caufman said the Met Council determined that anticipated transit demand in the Central Corridor could not be met by adding more buses.
“Studies show that up to 70 percent of residents along the Central Corridor have access to one or no car,” she said. “There is a huge potential for transit in that area.”
She noted that Route 16 buses will continue to operate on University Avenue for riders traveling to and from locations not immediately served by LRT stations.
Several business owners at the July 17 meeting expressed concerns about loss of parking on University, as well as disruption during construction.
Caufman conceded that some parking will be lost near LRT stations, but she said University is wide enough to accommodate parking, traffic lanes and the train track, which will run down the center of the corridor. She said that construction details are hard to predict at this point, since some decisions about the Central Corridor have yet to be made.
Right now, projected costs for the new line are $930 million. That figure may need to be trimmed to meet federal requirements, Caufman said. It’s expected that half of the Central Corridor’s funding will come from the federal government and a third from the state.