Passenger Rail Planning for the La Crosse Area
Multimodal Transportation Connections to the La Crosse
Since 1996, the states of Illinois, Wisconsin, Michigan, Indiana, Ohio,
Minnesota, Iowa, Nebraska, and Missouri, in partnership with the Federal
Railroad Administration (FRA) and Amtrak, have engaged in the planning of a
high-speed Midwest passenger rail service that will meet the demands for
intercity travel. The 3,000-mile Midwest Regional Rail Corridor network will
radiate out from Chicago to serve the nine states engaged in the planning
for high-speed rail service.
Wisconsin and Minnesota are currently conducting a Tier 1 environmental
impact statement (EIS)study to the preferred alternative for high-speed rail
service between Milwaukee and the Twin Cities.
The City of La Crosse currently receives passenger rail
service through Amtrak’s Empire Builder, which offers only one round trip
between Milwaukee and the Twin Cities. If the EIS process selects the
existing Empire Builder route as the preferred alternative, the La Crosse
area stands to benefit from six round-trips with travel speeds upwards of
110 mph between Chicago and the Twin Cities.
In 1998, La Crosse invested $2.8 million ($1.7 M in federal grant and $1.1 M
in federal loan) to renovate the Amtrak Station at 601 Saint Andrew St. The
significant investment in the historic Amtrak Station illustrates the
importance this integral part of our transportation network has to the City
and its residents. A renovated station, however, is only the first step in
improving rail service for La Crosse area residents and visitors. The next
step is to ensure we have the multimodal connections between the station and
other transportation networks in the city. This plan identifies what needs
to be done and recommends a plan of action for improved multimodal
connections to the Amtrak Station.
AMTRAK STATION SERVICES & MULTIMODAL CONNECTIONS
The Amtrak Station resides at 601 St. Andrew St on the north side of La
Crosse. It is bound on the north by the Canadian Pacific rail line (which
runs northeast-southwest through La Crosse) on the east by Avon St, on the
south by Island St, and on the west by the overpass of northbound USH 53
(Rose St). During construction of the overpass, Island St was converted to
two dead-end streets, which eliminated direct access between the heavily
industrialized area west of Rose St and the residential areas east of Rose
Transportation options for the Amtrak Station include Amtrak service itself,
bus transportation (Jefferson Lines, Municipal Transit Utility, La Crosse
County Aging Unit), taxi and hotel shuttle services, personal motor vehicle,
and non-motorized options (biking and walking).
Empire Builder Service
The National Railroad Passenger Corp or "Amtrak" as it is more commonly
called operates 1,935 railroad cars, which include 159 sleeper cars, 860
coach cars, 140 first class/business class cars, 60 dormitory/crew cars, 260
lounge/café/dinette cars, 78 dining cars, and the balance as baggage cars.
On some of the commuter routes on the east and west coasts, Amtrak allows
bicyclists to bring their bikes on to the train and secure them to a bicycle
rack. Amtrak, however, requires bicycles to be boxed and checked as luggage
for transport on the Empire Builder.
The Amtrak Empire Builder provides rail passenger service through the La
Crosse area on Canadian Pacific Railway track with one long-distance train
between Chicago and the Pacific Northwest. Westbound from Chicago, this
train travels through Sturtevant, Milwaukee, Columbus, Portage, Wisconsin
Dells, and Tomah in Wisconsin before it arrives at the La Crosse station.
The train leaves at approximately 7:14 p.m., passing through Winona and Red
Wing in Minnesota before it arrives in Minneapolis/St. Paul on its way to
Seattle, WA/Portland, OR. Eastbound from Seattle or Portland, this train
arrives in La Crosse at about 10:47 a.m. Connections to other Amtrak lines
for travel to the Southwest, Southeast, or Northeast can be made in
Chicago—Amtrak’s fourth busiest station in the country.
The number of passengers arriving and departing the La Crosse station
(Figure 1-1) experienced some fluctuation in the beginning of the decade,
but began to steadily increase after 2004. The number of passengers
increased more than 40% between 1999 and 2009, with only a slight dip of 2%
from 2008 to 2009. Fiscal year 2010 had Amtrak rail lines throughout the
country reporting record ridership. Relative to service in Wisconsin and
Minnesota, the Hiawatha Line between Chicago and Milwaukee was up 6.1% and
the Empire Builder, Amtrak’s most popular long-distance line, was up 3.5%
from fiscal year 2009.
Jefferson Lines is an intercity bus service that prior to December 1, 2010
was located at the Amtrak Station. The service has since transferred to the
Grand River Station transit center in downtown La Crosse at 314 Jay St and
no longer serves the Amtrak Station. Jefferson provides one westbound bus to
Minneapolis that leaves the transit center at 5:05 p.m. and one eastbound
bus to Milwaukee with stops in Sparta and Madison that leaves the transit
center at 3:10 p.m.
Municipal Transit Utility (MTU)
MTU is the urban fixed-route transit provider in the City of La Crosse. The
MTU system consists of ten routes, three of which are contracted with
surrounding communities (Campbell, La Crescent, and Onalaska). The MTU core
routes operate between the hours of 5:12 a.m. and 10:40 p.m. Monday through
Friday, 7:42 a.m. and 7:40 p.m. on Saturday, and 7:42 and 6:40 p.m. on
Sunday. Two of the core routes—Route 6 North Side and Route 5 Valley
View—offer access to the Amtrak Station. The Route 6 northbound on Rose St
offers the shortest walk to/from its bus stop at Rose St and Gould St. The
trip includes a one-block walk on Gould St and a two-block walk on Caledonia
St. Access to/from the closest bus stop at Copeland Ave and Hagar St along
the southbound Route 6 includes a three-block walk on Hagar St, a one-block
walk on Avon St, and a one-block walk on St. Andrew St. The Route 5 will
drop you off at either George St & Island St or George St & Hagar St for a
direct six-block walk nearly due west. Island St between Charles St and
George St does not have sidewalks, however.
The lack of MTU fixed-route service to the Amtrak station was studied during
the process for the Multimodal Transit Element (2004) and the
2008-2015 Transit Development Plan (2007). The Multimodal Transit
Element (2004) recommended considering a shuttle service between the train
station and the downtown transit center. The recommendations for the transit
development plan considered improvements through modifications to existing
routes without costly investment. Informal discussions with MTU staff
concluded at that time that the Valley View route did not have enough
flexibility in its schedule to allow for a deviation to the train station.
Changes in MTU service since 2004 and the potential for increased Amtrak
service, however, necessitate revisiting the concept of deviated service to
the station by MTU fixed-route service. Options for deviated service by the
Route 5 Valley View and the Route 6 North Side are recommended for increased
passenger rail service to the train station. (See Figure
2 for deviated service options.)
La Crosse County Aging Unit
The Aging Unit provides transportation services anywhere within La Crosse
County on the Minibus to people over 60 years of age and to adults with
disabilities. This service, however, requires a reservation at least 24
hours in advance and only operates between the hours of 7:00 a.m. and 5:00
p.m. Monday through Friday and between 8:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m. on Saturday.
Taxis & Hotel Shuttles
CTS Taxi on Hood St and Bee Cab on Island St provide door-to-door service
for a fee, while the Best Western Midway, Holiday Inn, Radisson, Marriott
Courtyard, and Settle Inn hotels in La Crosse and the Stoney Creek Inn in
Onalaska offer free shuttle service for hotel patrons from/to the Amtrak
Motor-Vehicle Access & Off-Street Parking
The Amtrak Station is accessed most easily from the east by St. Andrew St,
from the north by Avon St, and from the south by Caledonia St or Avon St.
Since Island St was converted to a dead-end street, access from the west is
accomplished by traveling north to Hagar St, east to Avon St, and south to
St. Andrew St, or south to Gould St and east to Caledonia St. The station
does have ample free short- and long-term parking.
Bicycle & Pedestrian Accommodations
Because the Amtrak Station is located in an older area of La Crosse, the
streets were constructed in a grid pattern with sidewalks flanking both
sides. As is with motor vehicle access, access by bike or on foot is best
accomplished from the north, east, or south. The
2035 Coulee Regional Bicycle Plan
adopted by the La Crosse Area Planning Committee (LAPC) in May 2010
recommends signing St. Andrew St as a bike route and providing shared
bicycle/parking lanes and shared road markings on Avon St between Monitor St
and St. Andrew St. The City of La Crosse is planning a shared-use path
(dashed line in Figure 3) between Monitor St and St.
Andrew St near the park.
RECOMMENDED IMPROVEMENTS TO MULTIMODAL CONNECTIONS
The following actions are recommended to improve multimodal service and
connections for the general public to the Amtrak Station:
Implement a deviated fixed-route transit
service when passenger rail service is improved.
Figure 2 illustrates two of the most feasible options for deviation
by the Valley View and northbound North Side routes.
Implement the recommendations set forth
in the 2035 Coulee Regional
Bicycle Plan (2010):
Work with Amtrak to provide a car with
bicycle racks so that bicycles do not have to be boxed to be transported
between Milwaukee, La Crosse, and the Twin Cities.
Install missing sidewalks on Island St
between Charles St and George St.
Provide MTU transit schedules at the
Advertise International Mountain
Bicycling Association ride center status.
Provide regional bike route maps at
the Amtrak Station.
Provide directional signage to Amtrak
MAPS OF EXISTING AND PROPOSED CONNECTIONS
(Click on graphics for larger .pdf versions)
Existing and Proposed Transit Connections to the Amtrak Station:
Figure 3: Existing
and Proposed Bicycle Connections to the Amtrak Station.