Public meetings on light rail station planning begin this month
The day the first light rail train glides into a Southwest-area station is still roughly seven years off, but planning for what those stations might look like will begin this summer.
Local stakeholders will begin meeting this month to develop station designs and plan for land use around the five proposed stops in Minneapolis. Planning for suburban stations on the 14-mile Southwest Light Rail Transit (LRT) line connecting Minneapolis to Eden Prairie was completed in fall 2009.
Meanwhile, leadership on Southwest LRT will shift from Hennepin County to the Metropolitan Council as the project approaches several milestones.
The Metropolitan Council was set to amend its regional Transportation Policy Plan to include Southwest LRT at its May 26 meeting. Once that happens, the Council’s next big step will be to submit the Southwest LRT project to the Federal Transit Administration for permission to begin preliminary engineering in early 2011.
Mark Fuhrmann, the Metropolitan Council’s program manager for rail projects, said that was a key step in the national competition to win federal funding for the Southwest LRT line. Federal funds were expected to cover about half the total construction costs, estimated at $1.2 billion in 2015 dollars.
Also this summer, Hennepin County will wrap up nearly two years of work on a Draft Environmental Impact Statement, an outline of potential impacts LRT might have on the natural environment and communities along the transit corridor. County planners expected to submit that document to the Federal Transit Administration in June and make it available for public comment in the late summer or early fall.
But first on tap for the busy summer is station area planning, a chance for those who live and work near the proposed stations to have their say in what they look like.
The Hennepin County Regional Rail Authority in May approved a contract with consulting firm AECOM Inc. to lead station area planning in Minneapolis.
There are five proposed stops in the city: Royalston Station in Downtown; the Van White and Penn stations on the eastern border of Bryn Mawr; 21st Street Station in Kenwood; and West Lake Street Station in West Calhoun.
AECOM’s task is two-fold. It will draw-up design concepts for each station and also develop a detailed land-use plan for the area within a half-mile of each station. That land-use plan will consider everything from how the station is accessed by drivers and pedestrians to how the station might impact housing and commercial development in the area.
Hennepin County Transit Planner Adele Hall said neighborhood and business associations, adjacent property owners and organizations located near proposed station sites were invited in May to appoint a liaison to the Community Members’ Working Group. That group will meet with AECOM staff four times before the end of the year as station plans develop.
“They’ll be in an advisory role in terms of providing a lot of really localized knowledge about where they live and how they are using the areas where the stations will be in the future, and how they think things will change [once the stations are built],” Hall explained.
The Community Members’ Working Group meetings will be open to the public, and an additional three public open houses will provide general information on station plans.
With planning for Southwest LRT proceeding on multiple parallel tracks at this point, it could be confusing to know where to bring questions and concerns.
At a May 18 Southwest LRT open house at the Minneapolis Central Library, Bryn Mawr resident Chris Etz wondered about the chances of all five Minneapolis stations being built. Etz also said he was interested in the potential for two stops near Bryn Mawr to benefit neighborhood businesses.
While station area planning, with its focus on access and land use, will produce concepts for housing, retail and office development, Fuhrmann of the Metropolitan Council said it won’t be until preliminary engineering is completed in several years that a proposed station might be dropped from the plan.
Some issues, like parking and traffic around future stations —concerns about the 21st Street Station raised by several Kenwood residents at the May open house — will be addressed in several areas of the planning process.
Hall, the Hennepin County planner, said neighborhood residents, the experts on traffic and pedestrian patterns near their homes, should bring that knowledge to station area planning meetings. But if they’re concerned about, for instance, the environmental impacts of a parking lot, they also need to get that included in Draft Environmental Impact Statement.
Since parking is critical to the operation of the entire line, though, it won’t be until preliminary engineering is complete that Kenwood residents know whether or not they get a big park and ride in their neighborhood or no lot at all.
The Community Members’ Working Group will hold its first light rail station area planning meeting June 22 at a location to be determined. For information on those meetings and other public events, go to southwesttransitway.org and click on “Contact Us” to sign up for regular e-mail updates on the Southwest Light Rail Transit project.