Thursday, August 18, 2011

New Northstar station for Ramsey should be open by late next year

Two articles from ABC Newspapers in the last week have mentioned that city and county funding is ready for the proposed infill station along the Northstar Line in Ramsey, Minnesota, and that a grant request has been made to CTIB, the Counties Transit Improvement Board.  Construction may begin this winter or spring, but the station should be open by autumn 2012 regardless.  The station will be located at "The COR", a development formerly known as Ramsey Town Center which is theoretically being built under transit-oriented, new-urbanish guidelines.

The whole station project will apparently run $13.2 million, which seems to include $2.7 million to add 200 parking spaces to an existing ramp with 590 stalls (bringing the number of transit-dedicated spaces to 350). The ramp expansion was originally projected to cost $4.1 million, so there's some optimism that low bids will also be put in for much of the rest of the project.

Other non-station station costs include an overpass at Armstrong Boulevard and railroad easement rights. The total cost of the overpass is unclear, although Anoka County Regional Rail Authority is contributing $1.7 million to that project. BNSF Railway has indicated they want $5 million to allow the station on their property, though it may be possible to negotiate that down to $4.1 million.

The city currently has commuter buses that run to Minneapolis as route 856, the "Ramsey Star Express", which carries around 230 trips per day (or roughly 115 individuals making round trips). I'd certainly be skeptical of the need for 200 more spaces at a ramp that is currently under-utilized with only around 100 spaces currently being used for transit. I also have to scratch my head because the parking expansion is getting funding from a federal Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality (CMAQ) grant.

However, I'll mention that the Northstar commuter rail service carries more than 4 times the number of riders than the express bus service it replaced. 2008 statistics put Northstar Commuter Coach ridership at 169,000, while last year's rail numbers hit 715,000. The Ramsey Star buses clocked in 56,000 rides in '08, so if the newspaper is correct about current ridership being 230 daily, then it has stayed fairly constant or risen slightly since the introduction of Northstar rail service.

If Ramsey can get ridership to jump that much, then the extra parking is more justifiable—I think it's fair to say that parking demand will at least double. If it goes up as much as Northstar ridership did, then they'll easily fill the 350 dedicated spaces. I wouldn't advocate any more expansion of the parking structure, though—especially since I doubt the other 440 spaces are being fully utilized.

If things go well, Northstar could just barely hit one million rides in 2013. I'm not sure if I'm quite that optimistic, but it'd be nice to see.


  1. Is there any reason why grade separations, parking structures, or roadway reconstruction (Central Corridor) should be added in the cost of the transit project? Seems to make people really upset about transit, since they think stations themselves cost $14 million or LRT itself costs $1 billion.

  2. Doesn't make much sense, does it? It's definitely one reason why rail costs are or at least appear to be so high in this country. It doesn't account for all of the cost excesses, but amounts to a significant chunk.

  3. Well, this thing has been in place for several months now. I must have been wrong about the grade-separation project. I'll never understand why railroad stations are so expensive.