Transportation roundup

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]

Transportation roundup

Surviving snow-emergency season

Tonight, you forgot. Course you did. Or maybe in the darkness you mistook the odd side of the street for the even. Happens to the best of us. Leave your house the next morning and your car’s gone.

Welcome to snow-emergency season.

Then you glance down the street and your blood boils a little with the question: How come my car got towed and the neighbor’s car parked a half-block down is still there with clean plow marks carved around it? Or worse: Your car’s gone and the spot wasn’t even plowed.

That’s just how it goes, said Mike Kennedy, the city’s director of transportation maintenance and repair and the guy who gets flak for this kind of thing every winter.

"Sometimes those people call and complain that it was unfair that they got towed," he said. "Maybe it was unfair, but they were still parked in violation of the rules. It was just their bum luck that they got hooked."

Here’s what happens:

The city focuses first on towing on higher-density areas and main emergency-vehicle routes, and then it rotates towing among neighborhoods over the course of a season, to remind all city residents of the rules.

On the streets, field managers and tow-truck drivers make the calls, depending on any number of factors, including snow depth, the number of illegally parked cars, and whether the cars are blocked in or can be easily towed.

The city sends out around 80 tow trucks each day of the snow emergency. That gives them the capacity to tow about 20 percent of violators.

"And yes, with only 20 percent capability to tow all the ticketed vehicles, it follows that 80 percent of them will be plowed around," Kennedy said. "They just got lucky."

And in the process irritated a few neighbors.

Kennedy said the city gets calls all the time from folks fuming that those cars didn’t allow the street to be completely plowed, and asking that even though the plowing is over, could the city still come out and tow the cars?

If you need a refresher on the rules, here’s where to go: www.ci.minneapolis.mn.us/snow/parking-info.asp

A season of unsteady walking

By the time you read this, maybe you’re no longer strapping on skates to negotiate city sidewalks, though chances are there are still plenty of slippery spots.

This winter has brought an unusual pattern of melting and freezing, which has covered large sections of sidewalks in ice.

Folks call the city to complain about this all the time, though the calls are misdirected: Owners of businesses and homes are individually responsible for clearing sidewalks.

Sidewalks should be clear of all snow or ice within 24 hours after the snow has stopped falling. If they aren’t, you can report the violation by calling the city’s 311 line or going online to www.ci.minneapolis.mn.us/sidewalks/snow.asp.

You can also, of course, take the city up on its other recommendation for solving the problem: Talk to the home or business owner first.

A few helpful tips for keeping those walks clear (and avoiding those fines):

• Remember to clear the snow and ice from around your garbage and recycling carts. If snow stopped falling more than two days ago and the city shows up to collect from the carts, they’ll clear it and charge you for the work.

• If you live near a fire hydrant, dig it out.

• If you live on a street corner, make sure to clear all curb cuts.

• If you want some free sand to spread on your sidewalk, head down to the city’s building at 6036 Harriet Ave. S. (on 60th Street between Lyndale and Harriet Avenues). Remember to bring your own shovel and bucket, of course. The sand’s available 24 hours a day.

Reach Brian Voerding at [email protected]