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Metro streetcar proposals gain momentum

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Proposals to bring nostalgia-evoking streetcars back to St. Paul and Minneapolis are driving forward.

St. Paul studied the issue for a year and this week officials narrowed a list of potential routes to one – a line along 7th Street that would wind through downtown and link the city's East Side and West End, the Star Tribune reports.

That 4.1-mile route from Randolph Avenue to Arcade Street, which would cost an estimated $246 million, would see the biggest benefits in terms of ridership, development potential and cost, officials say.

City planners say the next step is to explore what the public thinks about the project. Open house events are being planned and a public hearing is likely in January, the Star Tribune reports.

Meanwhile, the Minneapolis City Council’s Transportation and Public Works Committee on Tuesday OK'd an environmental review and “pre-project development activities” on the proposed $200 million, 3.4-mile Nicollet Avenue streetcar line, the Star Tribune reports.

A Council panel in September backed streetcars on the line over bus improvements because of the potential to spur economic development.

Here's more info about the Nicollet-Central Transit Alternatives Project.

Critics argue that streetcars are too expensive, much pricier than buses, and many would prefer funneling the money to road repair. Construction of streetcar lines can create long months of traffic hassles.

But metro officials who advocate streetcars say they are great for moving people inside urban corridors, and for driving the economic development that often follows the lines.

Seattle and Portland are among the cities that have developed streetcars. At least a dozen cities are planning to develop new lines, including Atlanta, New Orleans and Los Angeles, Forbes reported this summer.

St. Paul Councilman Russ Stark in this five-minute video about St. Paul's development of the project makes the case that more people are looking to move back into cities and are looking for new ways to get around.

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