Saturday, January 28, 2006

A Commuter Rail Line Named…Northstar

I’ll explain myself for the title. I was trying to copy “Streetcar named Desire”- a movie title with a form of public transportation in it and another movie that I hope to see in the near future. Thursday night I visited the open house/public hearing for the Northstar Commuter Rail Line which would be Minnesota’s first Commuter Rail project. Side note- last night I watched “A Streetcar named Desire” and that movie was weird.

I arrived at the Heywood Office Building of Metro Transit at 4:30 after taking the #19 bus from Seven Corners on the edge of Downtown Minneapolis and University of Minnesota West Bank. The open house didn’t start until 5:30, so I waited in the lobby and chatted with the ladies that were setting up and greeting guests as they arrived for the open house/public hearing. Through my conversations with these ladies, I found out my official title in the world of Transportation advocacy. I am now an official Rail Transit “groupie”. The ladies in the front compared me to a young man who like me was from the University of Minnesota and was a “die hard” for the Hiawatha Line and attended almost all of the public meetings. I am glad that I now possess another title in addition to my self made title of die-hard or true believer.

Once people began to arrive for the open house/public meeting, I began to work the floor and look at the information they had posted on numerous slides in the conference room and talk with the people in the yellow shirts that were helping answering questions and presenting figures. The NCDA or the Northstar Corridor Development Authority did a great job of presenting facts and figures, and even had a rendered animatic of the Northstar Commuter train as it would appear in operation and how the stations would look, similar to the rendering that was done for the Central Corridor a few months ago created by the Central Corridor Partnership. In some of the slides, there were renderings of the bi-level coaches that Northstar will use. I asked one of the guys in yellow, whether he knew that Northstar would buy their locomotives and coaches from Bombardier or from another company and asked him how they would do it. The man explained to me that the process is a lot more complex than just placing an order with a supplier like Bombardier. There is an entire process dedicated to acquiring vehicles that needs to go through the FTA as well and takes up the majority of resources. I assume the Met Council will choose Bombardier because we have already worked with them for the LRVs used on the Hiawatha line and will be used on the Central Corridor as well.

At the open house I ran into some familiar important figures. The first was Mark Fuhrman, the project leader of Northstar. I had met Mark during one of Frank Loetterle’s Fundamentals of Transit Planning a year ago and so we chatted for a few minutes. I told Mark that my studies in Urban and Regional Planning had continued to progress and that this semester I was taking two graduate level classes that related to transportation planning. I also told him about my small internship with Transit for Livable Communities (TLC) the previous semester and the work we did researching for the Central Corridor and how I worked with the Midtown Greenway Coalition and had attended a number of their public meetings and workshops as well. Mark seemed impressed with my activities since the last time we had talked, and I informed him that if he had any work available or possibilities for internships over the summer that he should feel free to contact me. I left my information with his staff, and I hope that is enough to at least get my foot in the door and get credit towards my Urban Studies degree. I also met with Brian Lamb, the general manager for Metro Transit who recognized me as I returned to my chair. I chatted a while with him about my recent activities and expressed my hopes for Northstar in that it puts pressure on other transit projects such as Red Rock and Central Corridor.

Also at the meeting, I met a man from my home town of Brooklyn Park. He asked me if I knew anything about the Northwest BRT line which would run along 81 up into the Northwestern Suburbs. It turns out that he lives near the Crystal Airport and has taken an interest in all of the recent articles about the Crystal Airport in the Brooklyn Park SunPost. Having not been at home, I hadn’t really had the chance to read up on the current development plans, however, my dad sent me the articles and I have since been brought up to date.

The meeting was long but very interesting to attend and see what was going on in the world of Northstar development. Also included in the plans for Northstar, was the mentioning of the potential of the Twins Open Air Stadium located next to the Minneapolis Multimodal station for Northstar and Hiawatha. When Kristen and I took the express bus 766 out to Brooklyn Park we drove past the sight, and it was interesting to observe already the condo/loft conversions underway in those areas. It will be interesting to see what further ramifications investment in transportation infrastructure will have on our Twin Cities. In Friday’s Star Tribune there was an article about an upcoming exhibit on cities and art specifically about the Twin Cities and Minneapolis and the demise of the Milling Industry on the Riverfront being shown sometime in February. I hope to make my next post about predictions on development and what the future may look like for the Twin Cities. However, to predict the future one must understand the past. With that in mind, I picked up two books both by Larry Millet titled Lost Twin Cities & Twin Cities: Then and Now both books that cover in great detail the changes that the cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul have gone through over the past decades.

To learn more about Northstar click here. Also be sure to check out my previous post on the Central Corridor if you haven’t already, at the end there are links to many Transportation related sights for the Twin Cities

Until next time, see you all on the train as the smoke rises from the engines!!! WOOT-WOOT!!!!

Andrew “the transit groupie” Wambach

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