Various Local Transportation Stories
Early I-35W Access Project vote draws support, criticism
Although the Minneapolis City Council won’t be asked to approve the sprawling
I-35W Access Project until June, a council committee approved the project’s "concept" and agreed to provide $151,575 for its Environmental Assessment (EA).
The committee also voted that I-35W remain only four lanes in each direction, but would support a fifth lane if it’s Bus Rapid Transit or Light Rail Transit.
The full council will vote on the project concept and EA funding Friday, Jan. 30.
City process doesn’t include concept approval; the actual up-or-down vote is scheduled for June. That had some councilmembers asking why such the January vote was necessary — especially since the EA has not been completed.
City Assistant Director of Transportation and Parking Services Jon Wertjes said the council needed to commit to the Access Plan because the Sears renovation east of I-35W is moving forward. Allina Health Systems is expected to decide next month whether to locate in the Sears building, potentially bringing hundreds of jobs to the city. It has pushed for Access Project provisions that would make it faster to get between I-35W and Abbott Northwestern and Children’s hospitals and the nearby Sears site.
The Access Project plan would:
Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) lane.
Committee members voted 4-2 to support the concept and provide the EA funds. Councilmembers Scott Benson (11th Ward), Gary Schiff (9th Ward), Sandy Colvin Roy (12th Ward) and Barret Lane (13th Ward) voted yes, while Robert Lilligren (8th Ward) and Dean Zimmermann (6th Ward) voted no.
The project’s advisory committee (PAC) — made up of residents and business people — approved the plan in November 2002, but has tweaked the design as recently as this fall.
PAC member and Kingfield representative Sean Wherley said Alliana’s influence forcing an early concept vote was another example of corporations pushing the project and its public process. "It appears again that corporations are driving the project," he said.
Council supporters did not speak to the Allina issue, but focused on the project’s potential benefits, including moving traffic off residential streets and stimulating the economy.
— Robyn Repya
Ewing Avenue trail moves forward
In late December, the Hennepin County Board approved a partnership with the city of Minneapolis and the state Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to pay for a 1,500-foot walking/biking trail along Ewing Avenue from St. Louis Park to the Cedar Lake Trail.
The Ewing bikeway will connect France Avenue South to Cedar Lake Trail on Cedar Lake’s west side, closing a gap where there is currently no sidewalk or reasonably bikeable roadway. The project outline states that the goal is improved safety for trail users, both bicyclists and pedestrians.
Bryn Mawr Neighborhood Organizer Vida Ditter said improved safety at the trail connection has been a major worry.
She said kids have had difficulty crossing the street safely because of the current inadequate path. Ditter said parents have complained of near misses with motorists.
Tree loss along the path is another potentially contentious part of the project, according to Ditter. City Transportation Engineer Don Pflaum said his office is trying to minimize the tree loss via the design phase. Pflaum said the design process is already underway and should be finished by March, when he’ll bring the plan to the affected Bryn Mawr and St. Louis Park neighborhoods for input.
Hennepin County will contribute $50,000 for the project, the DNR trail connections program will add $50,000 and the city will pay $25,000 for design and management.
— Robyn Repya
Harriet streetcar expansion advances
The Minnesota Transportation Museum got a boost in its bid to upgrade its Como-Harriet Streetcar Line with a $440,000 federal grant when the Minneapolis City Council approved a 20-year land lease for the museum.
The council approved a $1-a-year lease on Jan. 16, giving the museum needed control of a city-owned strip of land from Linden Hills to the William Berry Parkway Bridge on which the streetcars run. Land control allows the museum to get a right-of-way certificate, qualifying it for a federal grant that could extend the Harriet-Calhoun line to West 36th Street, as well as remodel and upgrade the track and bed.
Michael Monahan, a principal with SRF Consulting, a Plymouth company assisting the museum, said project plans await final U.S. Department of Transportation approval. "We’re very hopeful on that," he said. "Our goal is still to be able to do the work [on the streetcar line] in the spring. But if scheduling doesn’t permit, then it would have to be slipped to the fall, after the heavy season [of use]."
The nonprofit Transportation Museum has operated the Como-Harriet line since 1971 with a corps of volunteers.
— Michael Metzger