St. Paul residents wary of proposed rail line

Proposals to improve transit service between Downtown St. Paul and Minneapolis St. Paul International Airport will continue to take shape this week, as an advisory committee meets to discuss options.

But, the plans are already causing controversy among some neighbors who think the plans would hurt businesses and cause homeowners to move.

“I didn't buy my home because I just wanted to be there a year or two. I bought it because I want to stay there forever and now it's looking like it might not be forever,” said Hayley Hemmer, who lives near a rail spur that could be used for transit.

The Ramsey County Railroad Authority is leading the study into transit options in the Riverview Corridor, between Union Depot and  Lowertown in the east and the airport and Mall of America in the west.

Committees are reviewing several options including light rail, streetcar or bus rapid transit lines. Some businesses are concerned about a plan that put light rail service along West Seventh Street.  Hemmer and her neighbors are concerned by another plan that would bring those lines within feet of their homes.

“If they did choose the CP rail spur, we would probably put our house up for sale and find someplace to go, because this is just too close to our house, I already don't sleep enough, I don't need a train or a bus keeping me up at night,” Hemmer said.

Officials stressed it’s still early in the process, and they are continuing to gather public input. The population in the corridor is expected to grow by 63 percent by 2040, with employment growth projected at 33 percent. Currently the corridor is only served by one bus route, the 54, which is often crowded.

“It behooves us to start looking into the future, and seeing what are going to be the needs of the residents in that area,” said Rafael Ortega, a Ramsey County commissioner and chair of the Ramsey County Railroad Authority.  “We’re mainly planning for our kids and we’re looking at how do we keep St. Paul viable and connecting to the airport and the mall, there are plenty of jobs.”

Ortega said the policy advisory committee hopes to come up with its preferred alternative in the coming months. It could take years before any trains would start running in the area.