Is the Access Project back on the table?
With big-time help from a new federal government, the long-delayed (and disputed) I-35W Access Project could become a reality.
To be sure, it’s a large "what if." At this point, President Barack Obama’s wide-ranging stimulus and public-works-investment plan is just that — a plan. The closest dollar amount anyone’s put on transportation funding came earlier this month from the House Appropriations Committee when it called for $90 billion to modernize transportation infrastructure, with a third of that dedicated to highway construction across the country.
The cost of the Access Project, which would link the interstate to Lake Street and other busy Southwest and South Minneapolis streets, was estimated in 2007 at $402 million.
But to ensure that the project would be considered in the event that new money materializes, the Metropolitan Council moved last month to add 11 back-burner transportation projects, including the Access Project, to its formal long-term project list.
The Met Council has said that without new money, it doesn’t have the resources to pursue any of the 11 projects, which include, among others, adding lanes to I-694, I-35E and I-494. It hasn’t formally prioritized the project list, and all but one of the projects are significantly less expensive than the Access Project.
The Access Project has a long and storied history. Here’s a brief (and un-nuanced) recap:
In 1997 the Phillips Partnership, a grassroots organization comprised of neighborhood political and corporate leaders, including from Allina and Abbott Northwestern hospitals, began exploring ways to connect I-35W to the hospitals and businesses in the area.
The following year, the suggestion arose of connecting the interstate to Lake Street and nearby streets. The Hennepin County Board of Commissioners and the Minneapolis City Council both signed resolutions asking the federal government for seed money to study the project. The project received $2 million in federal funding that year, and a total of $10.7 million for design, engineering, and purchasing right-of-way.
Over the next several years, as plans for the Access Project took shape, neighbors and neighborhood organizations got involved. The Kingfield Neighborhood Association spoke out against it after plans called for a 38th Street ramp. Residents in South Minneapolis’ Phillips neighborhood and adjoining neighborhoods organized against it, saying that the project would bring unacceptable levels of traffic, noise and pollution.
In 2004, squabbles began over the inclusion of adding a high-speed bus lane (called HOV, for high-occupancy vehicle, or BRT, for Bus Rapid Transit) to the interstate. The city and others supported the lane. The Minnesota Department of Transportation, which has managed the project, said that while it also supported the lane, it could only be built if adequate transit funding was available.
Soon it was determined that there wasn’t enough state and federal money available to begin construction on the project, and it was shelved. The transportation funding outlook for state projects will become clearer over the next few months, as the new Congress convenes and considers the stimulus plan.
Several chances for cyclists to speak
There are several city forums for cyclists coming up next month, where attendees can give feedback and ideas on a range of projects and the city’s proposed bike-sharing program. The details:
Feb. 4: The city will host an open house for the South Minneapolis section of the River Lake Greenway bike path, planned to run along 40th Street until just west of Hiawatha Avenue, and then along 42nd Street. It will connect to the already-completed Southwest side of the path, which runs from Lake Harriet to I-35W and passes through the East Harriet and Kingfield neighborhoods. Construction is scheduled to begin in 2010. The meeting’s at 6:30 p.m. at Roosevelt High School (4029 28th Ave. S.).
Feb. 4: Also that day is a city public meeting on its new proposal to launch a bike-sharing program. The city will present a draft plan and ask for comments and suggestions. That meeting is at 7 p.m. in the Calhoun Square atrium. If you miss it, there are two more: Feb. 10 at 7 p.m. at Coffman Memorial Union on the University of Minnesota Campus; and Feb. 12 at 5:30 p.m. at the Central Library downtown.
Feb. 23: The Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board will host a meeting in Lynnhurst on its Bike, Walk & Roll Plan.
The meeting’s at 6:30 p.m. at Lynnhurst Park (1345 Minnehaha Pkwy W.).
Reach Brian Voerding at [email protected]