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Does health of suburbs ride on rail alternatives?

The St. Croix Valley Rail Group's Steering committee plans the Decline of the Suburbs program taking place at the public library. Left to right: Wendy Dadez of New Richmond, Dori Marty of New Richmond, Erin Tomlinson of River Falls, Jeff Horner of River Falls and Mike Noreen (back to camera) of River Falls.1 / 2
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The St. Croix Valley Rail Group, formerly known as the Hudson-River Falls Area Rail Group, hosts a free presentation 7-8 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 23, in the first-floor meeting room at the River Falls Public Library, 140 Union St., to discuss the meaning of recently released housing and population data.

The meeting, entitled, "Decline of Suburbs and the Future of the St. Croix Valley," will be led by rail advocate and SCVRG member William "Bill" Draves. He said the discussion will focus on U.S. Census data that says cities are growing faster than suburbs.

"We live in a suburban area," Draves said about the data's relevance to River Falls. "This is a huge change. "

Leading housing experts also say the suburbs are now in long-term decline and that more people are moving to cities that have light rail as a transportation option. The areas with light rail are growing, according to Draves.

He said young people, students, senior citizens, telecommuters and others are opting to forego having a vehicle. Gas prices, maintenance expense, registration and other costs have people deciding to live in places with other modes of transportation besides cars.

Vehicle miles traveled have also been decreasing and along with them, the gas tax. Draves emphasizes that this "shift" is huge for both business and home owners.

He said statistics show that between 2007 and 2011, St. Croix County grew only 6 percent in population. From 2000 to 2007, it grew 27 percent.

Between 2010 and 2011, there was no population growth at all in the county, and the number of people in three age groups - 35-39, 40-45 and 46-54 - also decreased by 9 percent, 5 percent and 3 percent respectively.

Relative to housing growth, St. Croix County sits at about one-quarter of the home sales reported in Ramsey and Hennepin counties. He points to the partially developed subdivisions of the area as an example.

"Local officials should not be concerned," Draves said, "they should be panicked."

Draves said the SCVRG meets monthly and is comprised of 26 members from River Falls, Hudson and New Richmond.

Some may recall this group forming years ago under the name Hudson-River Falls Rail Group. Draves confirms that they changed the name to broaden the group's reach, since the issue of rail and suburban decline affects many municipalities in the St. Croix Valley.

The local rail group has followed the progress and action of the Gateway Corridor Commission, which is responsible for planning of the transportation "corridor" that begins at the St. Croix River bridge on the states' borders and ends in the Twin Cities. Learn more about the commission and its activities at its website:

Draves invites all interested to "join us for a fascinating look at the future for area business and communities in the St. Croix Valley."