Planners are taking a second look at major traffic increase projections in the Lake Street and Nicollet Avenue area by 2020, as neighbors and county planners express surprise at the forecasts.
Hennepin County has hired consultant Fred Dock to review a Minneapolis Department of Public Works study on the Nicollet Avenue corridor. His report is expected by late July or early August.
The city study looked at 2020 traffic levels if one or more of the following happens:
- Nicollet Avenue reopens at Lake Street
- New I-35W access ramps are added at Lake Street
- I-35W ramps are moved from West 35th and 36th streets to West 38th Street
- 1st and Blaisdell avenues become two-way streets.
Depending on the assumptions, the traffic counts nearly doubled on some Nicollet/Lake area streets.
"The numbers were higher than we expected," said Hennepin County Commissioner Gail Dorfman. "We are not sure they are telling an accurate story."
Large traffic increases would lead planners to recommend widening Lake Street by as much as 60 feet, a move some residents say would make the area very unfriendly for pedestrians. The Whittier Alliance neighborhood group is considering a resolution opposing the new I-35W access ramps at Lake Street based on city’s traffic projections.
Dorfman said county officials are concerned the city’s traffic projections were too high, leading to unnecessarily wide roads. County officials asked if the city considered transit plans that could potentially reduce auto traffic, such as the Southwest Corridor — a commuter rail line from Eden Prairie to downtown Minneapolis — or transit on the Midtown Greenway.
The city said it had not considered those transit impacts, Dorfman said. County officials began to wonder about other city assumptions.
At the request of I-35W Project Advisory Committee neighborhood representatives, Dorfman said the county contacted Dock, an associate principal in Meyer, Mahaddes Associates. Dock is a member of Mayor R.T. Rybak’s transportation transition team.
"It allows us to give an objective review," he said. "We will review the numbers in light of best practices approach. It is a review, not a redo."
He added, "If we suggest they need to look at more transit in one place, we would need to make a recommendation as to how we think it would give a significant difference in the answer."
Dorfman said it was important to her and the project advisory committee members that Dock’s work not be dictated by the consultants or by government, but by neighborhood people who serve on the committee.
Dave Harstad, a Whittier Alliance committee representative, said hiring Dock added credibility to the process.
"There has been mistrust," he said of neighborhood members’ feelings about the city projections. "Whether it is rational or not, we will find out," he said.
Jeanne Massey, a Kingfield representative, said the access group sought a peer review a year ago.
"This is important because it gives neighborhoods more time to organize and respond to the new traffic study findings and to develop adequate mitigation and design proposals," she wrote the Kingfield neighborhood association e-mail list.
Dock also will work on the I-35W committee’s Mitigation and Enhancement Subcommittee to see if there are other ways to lessen the impact of increased traffic on the neighborhood.
For more information, see the web for: The Phillips Partnerships’ I-35W Access Project, www.phillipspartnership.org/Infrastructure/infrastructure.html
Kingfield Neighborhood Association: www.kingfield.org