By Dave Van Hattum, Advocacy Director
The Twin Cities metro area continues to make important incremental progress toward building a regional system of transitways and strengthening the bus system. Many transformative projects are moving forward—though our region still needs a significant increase in dedicated funding to meet growing demand for transit service and bike/ped connections, and to implement new projects on a reasonable timeline.
Here is a quick rundown of what’s new with transit plans and projects in the Twin Cities this fall:
Green Line Extension (Southwest LRT). After receiving municipal consent from Hennepin County and all cities along the proposed light rail line, this project is moving forward with Phase II environmental testing to determine (and plan for remediation of) any contaminated soils or water near planned project construction sites. There is also extensive work to gather property and title information leading up to acquiring approximately 150 private-properties along the route. Most of these are partial acquisitions, and very few are residential. (Project staff confirm that all of the residential acquisitions are partial and do not involve taking single-family homes.) To-date, $705 million of the $1.65 billion budget is committed from three sources: Counties Transit Improvement Board ($496 million), Hennepin County Regional Rail Authority ($165 million), and the State ($44 million). Though not yet secure, the remaining funds are expected to come primarily from the Federal Transit Administration (half of the $1.65 billion) as well as from the State. Engineering will begin next year, and service is scheduled to open in 2019.
Blue Line Extension (Bottineau LRT). There were two recent milestones for the Blue Line Extension: In late August, the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) approved moving this 13-mile line into the Project Development phase. Then, in late September, the Metropolitan Council chose Kimley-Horn and Associates to engineer the line—from Project Development through construction. Ultimately, the Blue Line Extension is expected to open in 2021.
An open house on November 12 is the next major opportunity for the public to be involved. The event will focus on:
- Planning efforts underway around the proposed line’s four southernmost stations (in North Minneapolis and Golden Valley).
- Ideas for bike, pedestrian and transit connections and development that will help neighborhoods near the stations thrive.
- A related planning initiative for arterial bus rapid transit on Penn Avenue.
Get involved: Attend the open house on Wednesday, November 12, 5:30-8 p.m., at University of Minnesota’s Urban Research and Outreach-Engagement Center (2001 Plymouth Avenue North, Minneapolis).
Future Transit Corridors
Riverview Corridor. A Pre-Project Development (PPD) Study of the Riverview Corridor (between downtown Saint Paul and the MSP Airport) will be completed by December 2015. This study will determine the preferred mode (light rail, bus rapid transit, streetcar, or some combination), as well as the alignment and number of transit stations for this corridor. As is typical with a PPD study, lots of data will be crunched, including ridership projections and capital costs for different options. There also will be opportunities for stakeholder and public input, including the upcoming open house on Nov. 6. Transit improvements for this corridor are expected by 2024.
Get involved: To learn more and show your support for transit improvements in Saint Paul, attend the upcoming open house on Thursday, November 6, 5:30 to 7:30 p.m., at Nova Classical Academy (1455 Victoria Way, Saint Paul).
Credit: Ramsey County Regional Railroad Authority
Rush Line Corridor. A PPD Study of the Rush Line Corridor, which travels north from the Saint Paul Union Depot to Forest Lake, is also underway. This study is expected to determine a preferred mode and alignment by summer 2015. Last month, Rush Line planners held a walking tour for residents to gather feedback on the Bruce Vento Trail section (between Larpenteur and Arlington Aves.) and on the East Larpenteur Avenue section of the corridor.
Bus Rapid Transit (BRT)
Gateway BRT. With Washington County’s approval earlier this month, all communities along the corridor officially have signed off on the Locally Preferred Alternative (LPA) for Gateway. The approved LPA, a significant step forward for this transitway, calls for highway BRT and a preferred alignment between downtown Saint Paul and Woodbury along I-94. Gateway also achieved an important milestone when it was included in the Met. Council’s draft Transportation Policy Plan (TPP) this fall. The Project Development phase will start soon.
Orange Line BRT. The Orange Line will serve riders along I-35W South from downtown Minneapolis to Burnsville. In order to make application to the FTA Small Starts program, the Orange Line recently received a commitment of $2 million from the Met. Council and $6 million from the Counties Transit Improvement Board (CTIB) to complete Project Development and Engineering activities. Another $2 million from the State will go toward the critical transit station at I-35W and Lake Street. The Orange Line is scheduled to open in 2019.
Design illustrations of the Lake Street Station transit bridge and transit plaza being planned in Minneapolis. Credit: Metro Transit
Red Line BRT. The Met. Council has applied to CTIB for nearly $10 million for a new Cedar Grove Transit Station. The new station, in the center of Highway 77, will reduce travel time for bus passengers by 10 minutes on a typical Red Line BRT trip. Construction is expected to begin in spring 2015.
Local and Express Bus
Bus Shelters. Metro Transit recently secured a $3.26 million federal grant to build and enhance up to 140 bus passenger shelters on 19 major bus routes. This work represents an important steeping-stone toward advancing regional transit equity goals.
Metro Transit Service Improvement Plan (SIP). This draft plan to dramatically expand bus service in the metro area was released on October 22. The SIP specifies the proposed new local bus, express bus, and arterial bus rapid transit service that Metro Transit will prioritize when new funding becomes available. The 122 projects it identifies would result in a 29 percent increase in service by 2030, with a majority happening in the next six years. We are thrilled to see planning for this level of growth in the bus system. Learn more in our SIP blog.
Get involved: Metro Transit will host and accept comments at several public meetings Nov. 5-18. We strongly encourage you to attend and to weigh in! See the meeting schedule.
Saint Paul. The Saint Paul City Council approved the Saint Paul Streetcar Feasibility Study over the summer, but has put additional analysis of a streetcar starter line on hold until Ramsey County Regional Railroad Authority completes the Riverview Corridor Study.
Minneapolis. This fall—for the first time—the Met. Council included streetcars in its draft Transportation Policy Plan (TPP) for the metro region. The draft TPP specifically states that if the City of Minneapolis identifies capital funding for the Nicollet-Central Streetcar project, it can be added to the list of regional transit expansion projects and a policy discussion will ensue to specify the source of operating funding. Environmental and design work on this Minneapolis starter line is now underway. An alternatives analysis study is also in progress for streetcar on West Broadway in Minneapolis.
Nicollet-Central Modern Streetcar LPA. Credit: City of Minneapolis.