State-city Crosstown deal could boost transit, Access Project

State Lt. Gov. Carol Molnau accepted an appeals panel’s recommendations March 17 for the Crosstown Reconstruction Project, which will promote bus rapid transit (BRT) on I-35W through the Crosstown junction. The state’s acceptance could also boost the I-35W Access Project ramp plan in Whittier, Lyndale and Kingfield.

The city stopped the $240 million Crosstown plan in September by unanimously withholding municipal consent. Among other concerns, the Council said the plan didn’t do enough to promote BRT, a network of light-rail-like bus stations allowing faster I-35W bus trips between downtown Minneapolis and southern suburbs.

An appeals board set up to resolve the dispute adopted many city and Hennepin County recommendations, including:

– A new I-35W BRT station at 46th Street;

– Dedicated bike lanes on project bridges

– A new Minnehaha Bridge at I-35W that better fits the neighborhood; and

– Better water quality and stormwater management;

City Councilmember Scott Benson (11th Ward) said of the outcome, "We probably worked out the best compromise we could get. We got a lot of what the neighbors wanted."

The biggest remaining question centers on getting BRT from 42nd Street (the Crosstown project’s northern border) into downtown Minneapolis. Does the state’s BRT commitment mean it has to build the so-far-unfunded $150 million Access Project?

Access Project Manager Tom Johnson said the appeal ruling at least removed a roadblock. "The Access Project is going to move ahead now," he said.

Molnau told Hennepin County officials March 18 that "community involvement for the I-35W Corridor Improvement project will continue to flow" through the Access Project’s citizen advisory committee, or PAC. Some Southwest citizens have criticized that group for supporting what they see as an overly costly and intrusive ramp-access plan.

Hennepin County Assistant Administrator Gary Erickson, who has worked with the state on Access Project issues, said the Crosstown recommendation makes the Access Project essential in getting BRT into downtown because otherwise a high-occupancy vehicle lane would be "completed up to 46th Street with a big stopping."

If BRT isn’t extended, buses would have to shift from the inside lane at 46th Street to the current shoulder lane north into downtown. Such dramatic lane shifts would inevitably slow traffic.

Erickson said he’s hopeful the state would build the Crosstown and north-of-46th BRT projects close together to ensure the smoothest rides. The three-year Crosstown project is to begin in 2006. However, he added that the projects wouldn’t happen simultaneously because of state funding shortfalls.

Minneapolis Director of Community Planning and Economic Development Lee Sheehy noted that making BRT connect to downtown requires funding for the section north of 28th Street that is not part of the Access Project.

Residents can expect mid- to late-summer meetings about the project’s bridges, state transporation officials say.

Sheehy said the city’s legislative agenda is focused on more transportation funding to accelerate Lake Street and I-35W plans.

For more information about the Crosstown project, visit projects.dot.state.mn.us/crosstown/status.html.