Transportation roundup

Southwest Corridor light-rail station studies funding approved

Members of a Hennepin County Board of Commissioners committee have approved $400,000 to fund a station and further study for light-rail transit in the Southwest metro.

The board, acting as the Hennepin County Regional Railroad Authority (HCRRA), OK’d the funding June 17 for the proposed Southwest Corridor, a light-rail transit line serving Eden Prairie, Edina, Hopkins, Minneapolis, Minnetonka and St. Louis Park, according to a Hennepin County news release.

Hennepin County is applying to the Federal Transportation Administration for potential New Starts projects grants to study land use and economic development potential within a quarter- to half-mile radius of future station locations.

The Southwest Station Area Master Plans will be developed throughout the next year, creating future land use plans that identify opportunities for transit-oriented development in the Southwest metro, the release said.

The HCRRA also approved $2.5 million to fund the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) for the Southwest Corridor, which will be prepared over the next 18 months.

Major federal transit grant secured

Funding for the $133 million Urban Partnership Agreement (UPA) — federal money for a host of transit projects — came through June 12. The UPA will fund transportation projects along I-35W from downtown Minneapolis to suburbs in the southern metro.

To celebrate the federal grant, a number of Southwest transportation stalwarts gathered in Bloomington with Mayor R.T. Rybak and Gov. Tim Pawlenty to mark the occasion.

State Rep. Frank Hornstein (DFL-60B), Sen. Scott Dibble (DFL-60) and U.S. Transportation Secretary Mary E. Peters were also in attendance.

The UPA will, among other changes and additions, convert narrow bus lanes to wider toll lanes along I-35W between 46th Street and downtown by the end of 2009. The agreement also calls for an additional, speedier bus lane between the post office and the convention center.

That plan includes converting existing car pool lanes on I-35W to allow single-occupant drivers to also use them if they pay a fee, and extending the new lanes, known as High-Occupancy Toll (HOT) lanes. The federal funds also will be used to purchase 26 new buses, speed wait times for buses at stoplights and construct new park-and-ride facilities along the corridor.

The Urban Partnership Program is part of a U.S. Department of Transportation effort to address traffic congestion. In addition to Minneapolis, the Department has entered into partnerships with Chicago, Los Angeles, Miami, San Francisco and Seattle.

Crosstown questions answered at Kingfield Farmers’ Market July 13

Ever had a burning Crosstown closure question that your neighbors just don’t have the answer to? Well, Crosstown staff have agreed to stop by from 10 a.m.–noon Sunday, July 13 at the Kingfield Farmers’ Market (KFM), at 43rd & Nicollet. There will also be an ice cream flavor contest at the KFM, albeit most likely not associated with the Crosstown or its staff.

Transportation roundup

Airport noise relief on its way

With contracts now in place, homeowners could soon receive noise-mitigation benefits from the Minneapolis-St. Paul Airport (MSP) as early as September. In Southwest, however, noise relief work is expected to begin in December 2008 and run through 2012.

At the May 21 Airport Noise Oversight Committee (NOC) meeting, members OK’d bids for noise-mitigation work.

Three companies’ bids were accepted. CenterPoint Energy will take care of all electrical, mechanical and duct work for $26.5 million; Andersen will handle all doors and windows for $11 million, and Energy Savers agreed to install insulation in homes for $2 million.

Thousands of homeowners, who reside in areas close to their airport, settled a lawsuit in October 2007 with the Metropolitan Airports Commission. Under the settlement, homeowners in Minneapolis, Richfield and Eagan could potentially receive $130 million to fit their homes with appropriate noise-reduction procedures (including insulation, new windows and air conditioning). How much and how soon a home receives noise relief depends on where it is located within the 60–64 decibel Day-Night noise Level (DNL) map.

Work on Southwest homes is scheduled to be complete by December 2012, said the project’s coordinator John Nelson.

The 60–64 DNL area includes hundreds of single-and- multifamily homes and apartments in Southwest — stretching as far west as Lake Harriet, and as far north as 44th Street. In Southwest, where the majority of eligible neighborhoods (Windom, Tangletown, Kingfield and East Harriet) fall under the 60–62 DNL, work is tentatively scheduled to begin in February 2009 or January 2010.

The process to provide noise relief has been segmented into phases with single-family homes receiving work before multifamily homes (or those with three or more bedrooms).

Beginning in December 2008, phase II of the project will begin. This could include the abodes of hundreds of Southwest homeowners and apartment-dwellers. These residents will be sent a letter containing a “survey” that will let the Metropolitan Airports Commission, which oversees MSP operations, know whether or not homeowners want to receive noise relief, Nelson said. Some 2 to 3 percent of homeowners opt out of the voluntary program, Nelson said, for various reasons. Homeowners can then attend an invite-only orientation meeting followed by an air-quality test for “preexisting” air-quality problems that would need to be fixed before construction could begin. Under previous noise-mitigation work, an estimated 50 percent of homeowners houses failed the air-quality tests and were forced to spend between $300–$400 to have their appliances cleaned before any work could be done, Nelson said.

Once complete with the air-quality test, a design phase — in which designers conceive a way to reduce noise by 5 decibels — would begin.

With contractors now in place, the MAC must, according to the agreement, begin in-home construction by Nov. 1, however, work could begin as early Sept. 1, according to the NOC update.

Under the settlement, if homes don’t already have air conditioning (either through-the-wall or window-mounted, not central air) they would receive it, as well as $4,000 worth of noise-mitigation measures. Those homes that already have air conditioning, can receive up to $14,000 in other mitigation.

A new “Noise-Mitigation Product” showroom is open at 6517 Nicollet Ave. S., located just east of the HUB shopping center in Richfield. The showroom allows affected homeowners to chose from a “menu” of options to update their homes against airport noise. However, only those invited — by letter — will be admitted. This space will also be used for a variety of meetings with homeowners during the project.

Transportation roundup

Central Corridor hearing June 3

The Central Corridor light-rail line is meant to be link between the Minneapolis and St. Paul. However, before it can go full-steam ahead, the public will have an opportunity to step up to the platform at two public hearings.

The first will be conducted at 1:30 p.m., Tuesday, June 3 at City Council chambers in City Hall, 350 S. 5th St. An hour before the public hearing, staff members with the Central Corridor LRT Project will hold an open house in City Hall’s room 333 where attendees will be able to ask questions about the project design.

The Hennepin County Board of Commissioners will hold a second hearing Tuesday, June 17 at 1:30 p.m. — during the county board’s regularly scheduled meeting. It will be held on the 24th floor of the Hennepin County Government Center, 300 S. 6th St.

Central Corridor project staff from the Metropolitan Council will be available one hour before the meeting to answer questions at an open house on the 23rd floor of the government center.

Decisions regarding issues such as public art, station design and streetscape will be the focus of future meetings, according to a county news release. The County Board will hear testimony but will not vote on the Central Corridor preliminary design plans at these hearings. For more information on the hearing, call 348-3081 or 348-7708.

The state Legislature recently approved $70 million for the $909 million project, keeping it on track for 2014 opening.

The Central Corridor line — tentatively named the ICICLE — will run from Downtown Minneapolis to downtown St. Paul.

There is still some debate about how the line will pass through the University of Minnesota area. University officials are pushing for a loop that would pass by the new Gophers’ football stadium and then head south through Dinkytown. Another option would have it run along Washington Avenue.

The City Council recently voted to emphasize they support the project moving forward “without delay.”

Crosstown closures ramping up

Here’s the latest on ramp closures related to the Crosstown reconstruction project, according to MnDOT:

• 46th street: The exit ramp from southbound I-35W will close in August. The entrance ramp to southbound I-35W reopens in October 2009. The northbound exit and entrance ramps to the interstate reopen in October 2010.

• 60th Street: The exit ramp from southbound I-35W will reopen in September 2009.

• 66th Street: The entrance ramp to northbound I-35W will reopen June 2010.

• Lyndale Avenue: The exit ramp from westbound Highway 62 will reopen in September 2009 along with the entrance ramp to eastbound Highway 62 and northbound I-35W. The exit ramp from eastbound Highway 62 also reopens September 2009.

For more information on the Crosstown project, go to www.dot.state.mn.us/projects/crosstown/.

Session highlights

Last year, state legislators largely lamented the session saying it was more about what didn’t happen regarding transportation than what did. This year, however, members were active, sending strong signals from the beginning.

Here are some key legislative actions:

• Within the first weeks of the session, state legislators overrode a veto of Gov. Tim Pawlenty for the first time in his tenure, clearing the way for an 8.5-cent tax on gas, which will provide funding for roads and bridges.

• Soon after overriding the governor’s gas tax veto, legislators voted to not reconfirm Lt. Gov. Carol Molnau as commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Transportation. Molnau was replaced by interim commissioner Bob McFarlin, and then by Commissioner Tom Sorel.

• After initially vetoing the proposal, legislators eventually managed to get Gov. Pawlenty to agree to $70 million in funding for the proposed Central Corridor light-rail line. Because of the agreement, the project will receive $450 million in matching federal dollars, officials said. The final price tag is approaching a billion dollars.

• Legislators secured $133 million in federal Urban Partnership Agreement funds to add features along Interstate 35W designed to decrease traffic congestion, including new park-and-ride stations, toll lanes and expanded bus lanes in Downtown.

Lyndale Avenue reconstruction approved

The County Board has approved the reconstruction of Lyndale Avenue from West 31st Street to Minnehaha Parkway. The $8 million project includes the reconstruction of roads, gutters, new signals and lighting. Utility relocation for the project — which has been discussed since 1999 — is currently under way.