Council Committee supports proposed multimodal BRT station on Lake Street

The City Council’s Transportation & Public Works Committee has approved a resolution to support developing a plan to create a multimodal Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) station at Lake Street and Interstate 35W.

The station would be built in the middle of the freeway with a connection to the Midtown Greenway, in case Light Rail Transit (LRT) is developed along the corridor. Additionally, the project would include developing complete access for traffic to I-35W from Lake Street and vice versa.

If approved by the full Council on Dec. 7, the resolution would set priorities for the city that are similar to ideas in the I-35W Access Project, which developed from a study that Allina Health System and Abbott Northwestern Hospital co-sponsored in 1997 to improve access to the hospital on 800 E. 28th St. (The Council met after this issue went to press. For news updates, go to www.southwestjournal.com).

According to city documents, the plan began as a way to create better access at Lake Street and I-35W and grew to include adding a dedicated transit lane on the freeway; removing the 35th/36th street ramps; adding ramps at 28th and 38th streets; and reconfiguring the 5th Avenue ramp onto northbound 35W. A project advisory committee worked on the concept layout until 2002 and City Council approved the layout in 2004.

But due to a log jam of state transportation projects and its $430–$480 million price tag, the plan never came to fruition. In September, MnDOT obtained a $133 million federally funded Urban Partnership Agreement grant — part of which would be used to implement BRT on 35W. But the grant doesn’t include money for a station at Lake Street.

On MnDOT’s schedule of projects, tackling 35W and Lake Street wouldn’t happen until 2024–2030. The new resolution seeks to reprioritize funding, giving the Lake Street project a good chance of getting and built in the next five years.

City Council Member Elizabeth Glidden (8th Ward) is eager for the project to move forward.

"The whole problem with this is that it hasn’t been funded. And so this [resolution] is trying to put the project back into a more manageable position where a portion — the portion that, at least from the city’s perspective, we feel is the more important portion — will have a chance of getting funded," said Glidden. "It’s important that people know that something is happening, that the city is taking a position."

Under the resolution, officials would focus on the Lake Street BRT and freeway access portion of the project first, with anything north of 28th Street and south of 31st Street reprioritized into a second phase or additional project.

Priorities within the community

"There are a lot of very interested people in this project," said Glidden.

Business owners and residents near the area have mixed opinions of the possibility of BRT and new access at Lake Street.

Marian Biehn, executive director of the Whittier Alliance, recalled years of meetings and discussion when the Access Project first came to light. "It’s been this other shoe waiting to drop," she said.

The alliance decided to oppose the project due to concerns about the effect on businesses and pedestrians, she said. Regarding the new resolution, their concerns would remain mostly the same.

"As someone who has invested a lot of time, interest and effort in the
neighborhood, I’d like to see sensitivity to the pedestrian use of Lake Street," she explained. "If we’re trying to promote mass transit usage, we also need to think of the pedestrian and how they can maneuver across multiple lanes of traffic."

Mark Hockley, president of Nico Products, Inc., which borders Lake Street and the freeway, said he’s primarily concerned with providing access to the company’s loading dock, parking lot and building for customers and trucks.

"If they’re not talking about the full construction that they were before, that would be a lot less disruptive to what we’re doing," he said. "If they start taking out the bridges or putting in footings to open up Stevens, that’s when we have to start worrying."

Around the corner, Joe Lavien, co-owner of Lavien Tax and Accounting Services on Lake Street and Stevens Avenue, hopes that putting a BRT station at Lake Street would bring in customers.

Clients from the suburbs who don’t have cars would have an easier time getting here, he said. "It would generate more traffic. There would be more people in the area."

Dave Dosse, owner of Carefree Rental on 122 E. Lake St., doesn’t think adding BRT will have an impact on his business, but believes improving freeway access could make driving safer. Allowing cars to enter the highway from 31st Street and exit the highway at 35th/36th Streets simultaneously is dangerous, he said. Traffic shouldn’t crisscross on such a short stretch.

Dosse also predicts a BRT station would be another place for graffiti artists to leave their marks. "Unless they’re going to have something to protect it I could see [the station] being a very expensive little toy," he said.

If the full council approves the resolution on Dec. 7, staff will begin to work with Hennepin County to edit the old Request for Proposal based on the principles in the resolution. Glidden thinks this will happen "fairly expeditiously," within the next few months.

Contact Mary O’Regan at moregan@mnpubs.com or 436-5088.