Photo by William Wesen, Creative Commons
You wouldn’t think a High Speed Rail Summit would be all that exciting. But just sitting in St. Paul’s Union Depot brought lots of enthusiasm for its future last Wednesday afternoon.
The U.S. Department of Transportation recently awarded a $40 million federal grant for the old transit hub’s renovation. Combined with other funding, the federal money has helped project organizers secure 75 percent of the $237 million rehab price tag. Construction will begin in January and wrap up by the end of 2012.
The Ramsey County Regional Rail Authority (RCRRA) has spearheaded the effort to revitalize Union Depot as a transit hub. Its first step was purchasing it.
Let’s take a trip down memory lane with the grand structure’s history. Built in 1881, fire destroyed the original Union Depot. In 1923, a new structure rose from the ashes. When in full service, the depot made St. Paul a major hub for both passenger and freight rail, with millions of riders during peak years and hundreds of daily trains.
By 1971, Amtrak moved its passenger rail service to Midway Station, where it remains. After Amtrak moved, several different entities bought the depot. The United States Postal Service became its primary user. RCRRA purchased major sections from the USPS in 2007.
At the end of Wednesday’s rail summit, Mortenson Construction Company presented plans for the new and improved Union Depot, impressing those gathered. The vision includes new tracks for commuter rail and inter-city (possibly high-speed) rail, with transit bays for shuttles and inter-city buses. Crews will transform the depot’s picturesque entrance into a pedestrian plaza, which will work well with the light rail station already under construction adjacent to it, on 4th Street.
For motorists, existing carriageway traveling underneath the plaza will be widened for a pick-up/drop-off area. The depot’s current parking ramp will remain.
Revitalization of a once-great transit hub will merge old and new modes of travel, helping restore the building to its glory days.
With transit corridor studies underway around the metro area and the proposal of more frequent, faster travel to and from Chicago, it is an exciting time for Union Depot’s renovation. It’s also a good symbol of how important continued investment in diverse transportation is for a healthier economy, mobile populace and stronger Minnesota.