Southwest reps split; final vote scheduled for June
The Minneapolis City Council voted 9-3 Jan. 30 to approve the I-35 W Access Project’s "concept" and spend $151,575 to complete the project’s Environmental Assessment (EA). The Council won’t be asked to formally approve the project until June.
The more than $150 million Access Project will re-work I-35W ramps and lanes between 26th Street and 38th Street. Among other facets, it will add ramps at 28th street, move ramps at 35th and 36th streets to 38th Street and potentially increase the number of highway lanes.
In its concept approval, the Council said it would only support a new, fifth lane in each direction if the lanes are bus rapid transit or transit-oriented.
"Concept approval" usually isn’t part of the city’s process, but Allina Health Systems, which is considering moving to the Sears site east of I-35W, requested some city commitment before making a relocation decision. On Jan. 27, the Hennepin County Board of Commissioners also approved the project’s concept.
Allina is expected to bring hundreds of jobs to the city and seeks the new 28th Street ramp and a wider Lake Street to make it faster to get between I-35W and Abbott Northwestern and Children’s hospitals and the nearby Sears site.
Some have complained that the Access Project will only increase traffic and pollution in the city without boosting transit.
Community members crowded the Council chambers, holding signs of showing support for and against the project, while watching the Council’s lengthy procedural coordination and debate on the issue before calling a vote.
Councilmembers Paul Ostrow (1st Ward), Paul Zerby (2nd Ward), Don Samuels (3rd Ward), Barb Johnson (4th Ward), Lisa Goodman (7th Ward), Gary Schiff (9th Ward), Scott Benson (11th Ward), Sandy Colvin Roy (12th Ward) and Barret Lane (13th Ward) voted to approve the project concept.
Councilmembers Natalie Johnson Lee (5th Ward) Robert Lilligren (8th Ward) and Dean Zimmermann (6th Ward) voted no. Councilmember Dan Niziolek (10th Ward) abstained from voting, explaining that he supported the Access Project’s goals but did not see an adequate plan to mitigate harmful effects in neighborhoods.
Before voting, Zimmerman and Lilligren attempted to replace the motion to approve the Access concept. Their alternative would outline the Council’s vision for the project area, committing to transit, Access Project mitigation plans and more city-sponsored community input, without providing concept approval.
The alternative was defeated, but many of its points were preserved in a subsequent successful motion to serve as city staff direction, authorizing development and procedural discussions with Hennepin County, the Minnesota Department of Transportation and the Metropolitan Council.
Zimmerman said before voting that although he understands big employers need freeway access, the project’s proposed ramps don’t deliver or address a comprehensive transportation strategy. He also said the project’s environmental concerns can’t be adequately addressed because the EA is currently incomplete.
Niziolek explained that he abstained because he thinks the city should commit to Allina but needs more time with the Access Project. He said there are serious changes that still need to be made in the plans, especially concerning the proposed seven-lane width of Lake Street.
Southwest Councilmembers supporting the project, including Southwest’s Goodman, prefaced their support by applauding big employers like Wells Fargo and Allina moving into communities in need of revitalization.
Mayor R.T. Rybak interjected, saying Allina leadership is putting their neck on the line wanting to move to an old building in Minneapolis, facing opposition on their own board. He said a decision should not be solely based on the possible relocation but that the project should move forward.
Project Advisory Committee
The project’s advisory committee (PAC) — made up of residents, businesspeople and community representatives — approved the Access Project plan in 2002 after years of work but has tweaked the design as recently as this fall.
PAC member and Kingfield neighborhood representative Sean Wherley has been against the current project plans because of the cost and community implications for a ramp into Kingfield at 38th Street.
He said he’s very disappointed in the Council’s action and is going to focus opposition efforts on state representatives, whom he believes do not support the project.
Southwest State Rep. Karen Clark opposes the Access Project, and State Rep. Frank Hornstein and Sen. Scott Dibble said their support is contingent on bus rapid transit (a dedicated bus lane) being part of the project.
State Sen. Linda Berglin is also against the project.
State Pre. Neva Walker and Sen. Scott Dibble wiouldn’t commit either way. But both said they’d only support the project if mitigation dollars were included.
All Minneapolis legislators consulted said they were very skeptical that the sate would provide the project’s necessary fundings.
PAC member and Lyndale Neighborhood Development Corp. representative Scott Persons, said the approval is a great victory for his neighborhood, which would lose the 35th and 36th Street ramps with the project’s implementation.
Access Project Manager Tom Johnson said there are numerous councilmember concerns that will be addressed before presenting the final project, but the approval is a good first step.