After concocting the plan that would pay for the reconstruction of Ramsey County Road 34, a.k.a. University Avenue, with a Federal Transit Administration grant intended to provide new public transit, the Highway Engineers had to figure out how to get the train from University Avenue to the Union Depot. They decided to loop the 265,000 lb. trains past the State Capitol to Robert Street and then back around to Cedar Street where they would pass a few feet from the entrances of a couple historic churches and Minnesota Public Radio. Then, in order to turn back toward the Union Depot, the trains would slice through the block bordered by 4th, 5th, Cedar and Minnesota streets.
The Union Depot renovation project was pitched largely on the attractive notion of reopening the grande concourse that was mothballed when Amtrak moved out. The boosters of the renovation claimed that the Depot re-opening would coincide with the completion of a Central Corridor LRT line that would connect to the concourse. Ramsey County so much wanted the Central Corridor LRT line to connect to the concourse that the County Commissioners, acting as the Ramsey County Regional Rail Authority, authorized the payment of $100,000 to an advertising agency called Colle and McVoy to “ensure” a “connection of the Central Corridor Project to the Union Depot” via a “loop alignment” that would serve the Convention Center Complex and St. Paul Technical College.
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The efforts of the County Commissioners and their advertising agency failed, and the highway engineers chose instead to route the 265,000 lb. trains down Cedar and 4th streets. They claimed that the Cedar-4th Street route was necessary in order to meet federal cost-effectiveness requirements.
When people began demanding stops at 3 major intersections on University Avenue, it became clear that the cost-effectiveness calculations of the Highway Engineers were a fraud. Not only was there clearly no justification for not providing stops at the Hamline, Victoria and Western intersections, there clearly were no travel time savings, at any cost. Building a 45-minute LRT line to replace a 50-minute bus route, doubling the wait time for users of the local bus service, and eliminating the faster freeway express service, while at the same time creating increased traffic congestion, would not reduce travel times. If the highway planners built their proposed project, most of the travelers in the central corridor between Minneapolis and St. Paul would end up spending more time in their daily commutes.
Rather having the cost-effectiveness calculations exposed as a fraud, U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and the Federal Transit Administration decided to make the cost-effectiveness numbers irrelevant. LaHood announced that the new Obama Administration would no longer consider the “cost-effectiveness index” a critical factor in the granting of federal transit funds. With the City of St. Paul having already agreed to pay100% of the cost of one additional stop, LaHood also announced that the federal government would fund half the cost of the other 2 additional stops.
So, if the cost-effectiveness calculations are no longer, if they ever were, valid, and if the loop alignment serving the Convention Center, Wilkins Auditorium, the hockey arena, the Ordway Theater and St. Paul Technical College, and connecting to the Union Depot concourse, is unquestionably preferable to running 265,000 lb. trains down Cedar and 4th streets, past historic churches and MPR, and dumping passengers in front of the Depot, why did they dig up 4th Street?