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It is time for train talk

The Red Rock Corridor Commission is about to open its doors to public comment regarding proposed commuter rail stations in Hastings, Cottage Grove, Newport and St. Paul.

Although construction on the line isn't likely to begin before 2016, and service isn't projected to begin before 2019, the commission is working to gather public input on proposed station sites and construction plans.

The first round of public hearings begins Aug. 17 at Hastings' City Hall. The hearing will begin at 7 p.m.

The commission held a visioning session with a small group of key stakeholders last Wednesday, where they presented some key findings and design ideas for the Hastings station.

The commission had initially identified the existing historic Hastings depot as a potential commuter rail station. However, after considering the cost to restore the existing building, project planners are recommending building a new station on the west side of the track. Along with the station, construction could include a parking ramp just north of Second Street with a set of storefronts along the street to disguise the ramp, expand the downtown business district and draw rail users into downtown.

At the August meeting, the public will have an opportunity to view the station plans and present their questions and feedback directly to project staff and consultants. The Red Rock Corridor Commission is hoping to find whether or not their plans meet the community's expectations and what local residents would want the new area to look like, said Andy Gitzlaff, associate planner for Washington County.

"We're still seeking input," he added.

Local construction costs would not fall entirely on Hastings.

"It's sort of a mixture between local, state and federal money," Gitzlaff said.

As a whole, half the Red Rock Corridor costs will be covered by the federal New Starts program through the Federal Transit Administration, Gitzlaff explained. The other half will be paid by state and local funds. Local funds come from the counties of Ramsey, Dakota, Washington and Hennepin, all funding partners in the Red Rock Corridor project.

The station planning process is estimated to last until mid-2011. Once complete, the commission will re-visit cost allocations and refine ridership projections. Current projections estimate that the line could have 90 to 180 users in its opening year, 200 by the year 2020 and 400 by 2030.

For more about the Red Rock Corridor, go to