Have you seen ’em yet? Those guys and gals hanging around University Avenue and other streets taking copious notes on clipboards?
Meet your local “Traffic Counters,” now working a limited engagement in the Twin Cities. The group of about 20 will be collecting data on you and me, but it’s nothing personal. In fact, they don’t want to talk to you at all. They just want to watch.
The traffic counters, who began their stakeouts in mid-October, just want to find out how many of us use the streets at busy times of day. Over the next several weeks, they’ll be posted at 80 intersections that stretch the length of the proposed 11-mile Central Corridor light rail line connecting downtown St. Paul and Minneapolis. The planned route runs largely along University Avenue.
They’ll be on duty during morning and evening rush hours Tuesdays through Thursdays. Some will be standing in easy view along the street, and others will be sitting in cars. But they’ll all be watching — and counting — the number of pedestrians and vehicles along the route.
It’s all part of the Central Corridor planning process called preliminary engineering, which is required by the Federal Transit Administration. It’s a critical phase that must be completed before the FTA fully commits to forking over nearly half a billion dollars in matching funds for the project. That phase is expected to last a couple of years. Most of the design work will be completed during this time, and all of the data collected during the consultation period will help determine many aspects of station placement and design.
Several controversial aspects of the Central Corridor project also must be determined during preliminary engineering. They include decisions on whether to build a tunnel under the University of Minnesota campus in Minneapolis and whether to extend the line in downtown St. Paul all the way to Union Depot, as St. Paul and Ramsey County leaders want.
Answers to those big questions will help determine the final cost of the project. The current price tag is $930 million, which is too high to meet funding guidelines. Metropolitan Council President Peter Bell says the cost must be pared to about $800 million in order for the feds to deliver their half of the money. The Met Council hopes to have a final cost estimate by the end of next summer.
The traffic data will play a key role in many decisions, according to Metropolitan Council spokeswoman Laura Baenen. The information will be used “to build a traffic model for the corridor — for instance, where to place traffic signals (and) right- and left-turn lanes, and determine where parking should be located or eliminated,” she says.
A St. Louis Park firm, Contractor Traffic Data Inc., has been hired to do the traffic counting.
Now that you know who the clipboard-holders are, there’s something else you should know: Please don’t attempt to feed the traffic counters questions or expect answers.
Baenen says she knows it’s tempting to want to engage these folks in all the joys and heartbreaks of Central Corridor planning. But, she’s warning, please don’t. Remember, they’re just here to watch. And count
If you’re really game to debate the project, Baenen asks that you contact the project’s community outreach coordinator, Rita Rodriguez. You can call her at 651-602-1805 or email her at rita.Rodriguez@METC.state.mn.us.