Civic Beat // City gets federal grant to study transit options on Nicollet, Central

Minneapolis has secured a $900,000 federal grant to study transit improvements on Nicollet and Central avenues between Columbia Heights and 46th Street South — two city corridors identified for potential streetcar lines.

If the plan moves forward, the circulator would connect densely populated neighborhoods near the line with downtown and the LRT system.

“Modern streetcars improve transportation, but they also build our economy,” said Mayor R.T. Rybak in a prepared statement. “One of the best ways to lower property taxes is to grow our tax base. We can do that by bringing streetcars to the heart of Minneapolis.” 

Many other major metro areas are building new streetcar lines. The U.S. Department of Transportation has given $408 million for streetcar projects in Atlanta, Dallas, New Orleans, Salt Lake City, St. Louis, Charlotte, Fort Worth, Portland and Tucson, according to a city news release. 

City Council Member Vice President Robert Lilligren (6th Ward) said streetcars would have several benefits for the city.

“Streetcars will spur jobs and investment that will benefit the entire metro area, attract new residents and visitors to the heart of the city and help us meet our regional goals to double transit ridership in 20 years,” said Lilligren, who has been working on a vision to reopen Nicollet Avenue at Lake Street and sees a streetcar system as a way to further that cause.

While the LRT has served some commuters well, streetcars on Central and Nicollet could fill another niche, noted City Council Member Kevin Reich (1st Ward). 

“This is a natural extension of the light rail transit (LRT) system that is developing with the Hiawatha, Central and Southwest lines,” Reich said, who serves on the Council’s Transportation and Public Works Committee with Lilligren, in a prepared statement. “Those are great projects. But there are other corridors where LRT is too large to fit and too costly to pay for. Nicollet and Central are great examples where a good, cost-effective alternative to LRT is needed to continue to grow the system. In densely populated cities, modern streetcars can achieve the benefits of LRT without the higher cost of traffic disruption.”

The Nicollet-Central Urban Circulator would run along Nicollet Avenue from the 46th Street Bus Rapid Transit station to Nicollet Mall and Central Avenue from the Columbia Heights Transit Center to Nicollet Mall via Hennepin and 1st avenues.

The $900,000 federal grant will be matched by $300,000 in local funding.